Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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To control the spread of COVID-19, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) required that all persons five years of age and older wear a mask in indoor public settings, including while attending public and private K–12 schools. A Lansing Catholic elementary school and parents with children enrolled at the school, challenged the mask requirement as a violation of their free exercise of religion, equal protection, and substantive due process rights. Since they filed suit, MDHHS has rescinded almost all COVID-19 pandemic emergency orders, including the challenged mask requirement.The Sixth Circuit held that the challenge to the mask requirement is not moot, and affirmed the denial of the Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction on the merits. Given the very real possibility that MDHHS may be faced again with escalating COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, Defendants have not met their “heavy burden” of showing that it is “absolutely clear” that they will not reimpose impose a mask requirement, including for children in grades K–5 receiving in-person instruction. Because the requirement to wear a facial covering applied to students in grades K–5 at both religious and non-religious schools, it was neutral and of general applicability. The MDHHS Orders satisfy rational-basis review. View "Resurrection School v. Hertel" on Justia Law

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In October 2018, the University of Louisville notified Dr. Kaplan, a tenured professor and the Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences (DOVS), that it was reviewing some of his actions as Chair and considering removing him from that position. These included his signing an unauthorized lease on behalf of DOVS and meeting with private equity firms interested in buying or financing DOVS. One month into the investigation, with no more warning, the University placed him on paid administrative leave and prohibited him from coming to university grounds and communicating with his colleagues. The university also advised Kaplan that he could lose his tenured position.When the investigation ended, Kaplan lost his Chair, and the dean of the medical school recommended termination of his tenure, identifying six grounds for dismissal. On appeal, a faculty committee gave Kaplan a two-day hearing, at which he introduced documents and witnesses supporting his defense. The committee upheld four grounds for dismissal, including Kaplan’s unauthorized lease and his perceived attempt to sell DOVS’s clinical practice to private investors. The University’s Board of Trustees terminated Kaplan’s tenure. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a suit in which Kaplan claimed that the University terminated him from both positions without due process, violated his Fourteenth Amendment liberty interests in his reputation, and violated his First Amendment right to academic freedom. View "Kaplan v. University of Louisville" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a Madison student fired a gun and injured four students. Approximately two years later, the School Board enacted a resolution allowing staff to carry concealed weapons. Around the same time, Madison students walked out of class during the school day to protest gun violence; school administration disciplined those students. The plaintiffs began attending Board meetings. At one meeting, three were not allowed to speak for failure to complete a “public participation form,” in person, at least two business days before the meeting. Another plaintiff finished his (under three-minute) speech while a security officer escorted him from the room.The plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, challenging the Board Policy’s “use of vague and undefined terms” and “the imposition of content-based restrictions on speech.” The district court granted the Board summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. The Policy’s restrictions on “abusive,” “personally directed,” and “antagonist” statements discriminate based on viewpoint and were unconstitutionally applied to silence the plaintiff. The antagonistic restriction, by definition, prohibits speech opposing the Board. The plaintiff spoke calmly and refrained from personal attacks or vitriol, focusing on his stringent opposition to the Board’s policy and his belief that the Board was not being honest about its motives. The preregistration requirement is a content-neutral time, place, manner restriction that narrowly serves a significant government interest and leaves ample alternative channels. View "Ison v. Madison Local School District Board of Education" on Justia Law

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When Perez (now 23) was nine, he emigrated from Mexico and started school in the Sturgis. Perez is deaf; the school assigned him a classroom aide who was not trained to work with deaf students and did not know sign language. Perez nonetheless appeared to progress academically. He was on the Honor Roll every semester. Months before graduation, the school informed the family that Perez did not qualify for a diploma—he was eligible for only a “certificate of completion.” Perez filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Education, citing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1412, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and Michigan disabilities laws. The ALJ dismissed the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims for lack of jurisdiction. Before a hearing on the IDEA claim, the parties settled. The school agreed to pay for Perez to attend the Michigan School for the Deaf, for any “post-secondary compensatory education,” for sign language instruction, and for the family’s attorney’s fees.Months later, Perez sued Sturgis Public Schools, with one ADA claim and one claim under Michigan law, alleging that the school discriminated against him by not providing the resources necessary for him to fully participate in class. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. Under the IDEA, the decision to settle means that Perez is barred from bringing a similar case against the school in court—even under a different federal law. View "Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools" on Justia Law

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Leggett Elementary School principal Vincente called a child’s mother to pick him up. The mother stated that her “boyfriend who is a policeman” (Hendon) would come. Because of another emergency situation, police were at the school. Vincente saw Hendon speaking with Akron officers. Hendon wore all black, with a vest and badge that said “officer,” and his name on his uniform. When Hendon entered the office, the secretaries assumed he was a police officer. Hendon and Vincente talked briefly about Hendon’s efforts to restart the Scared Straight Program.The next morning, Hendon reappeared, uninvited, dressed in what looked like SWAT gear. He and Vincente spoke again about the Scared Straight Program. Later, when a teacher had a problem student, (M.J.) Hendon took M.J. out of the classroom and threw M.J. against a wall, verbally abusing him, then returned M.J. to class, Later another education teacher summoned Hendon, who took two misbehaving students inside and forced them to perform exercises. There were additional incidents, during which school staff, believing Hendon to be a police officer, allowed him to discipline children. Interacting with parents, Hendon stated that he was an officer with the Scared Straight program.Eventually, the Akron police arrested Hendon. Parents and children sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Rehabilitation Act, the ADA, and Title VI. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants, rejecting “state-created danger” claims. The actual harm that M.J. experienced because of Vincente’s affirmative action is not the type that Vincente could have inferred from known facts. The plaintiffs had no evidence of discrimination. View "M.J. v. Akron City School District Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Meriwether, a Shawnee State University professor, is a devout Christian. In 2016, Shawnee told faculty to refer to students by their preferred pronouns. Meriwether’s department chair was dismissive of Meriwether’s concerns and religious beliefs. In 2018, Meriwether called on “Doe,” saying "Yes, sir." According to Meriwether, “no one . . . would have assumed that [Doe] was female.” Doe demanded that Meriwether “refer to [Doe] as a woman.” Meriwether believed that his sincerely-held religious beliefs prevented him from communicating messages about gender identity that he believes to be false. Doe became threatening. Meriwether reported the incident. Meriwether was advised to “eliminate all sex-based references.” Meriwether later accidentally referred to Doe as “Mr.” before immediately correcting himself. Doe again complained. Meriwether subsequently used only Doe’s last name, and awarded Doe a high grade. Meriwether continued to seek accommodation of his religious views; Shawnee would not compromise. The Title IX office concluded that Meriwether created a hostile environment without mentioning Meriwether’s religious beliefs. Shawnee placed a warning in Meriwether’s file. The faculty union filed an unsuccessful grievance.The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of Meriwether’s suit. Meriwether has plausibly alleged that Shawnee violated his First Amendment rights by compelling his speech or silence and casting a pall of orthodoxy over the classroom. Meriwether was speaking on a matter of public concern; Shawnee’s interest in punishing Meriwether’s speech is comparatively weak. Shawnee exhibited hostility to his religious beliefs and irregularities in its adjudication and investigation processes permit a plausible inference of non-neutrality. View "Meriwether v. Hartop" on Justia Law

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John Doe was expelled from the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine (CHM) for allegedly sexually assaulting two women, Roe 1 and Roe 2, on the night of the school’s formal dance. An outside consultant had determined that the evidence supported a finding that Doe had sexually assaulted the women. CHM convened a panel, which affirmed those findings without an in-person hearing. While this process was ongoing, the Sixth Circuit held that universities must offer an in-person hearing with cross-examination in cases where the fact-finder’s determination depends on witness credibility.CHM then gave Doe an in-person hearing, conducted over the course of three days before a Resolution Officer selected by the university. Doe was permitted to testify and, through his attorney, to cross-examine Roe 1 and Roe 2. The Resolution Officer did not require Roe 1 to answer every question that Doe’s attorney posed. Both Doe and his attorney were present throughout the entire hearing. After considering the credibility of the witnesses, the Resolution Officer again found that the evidence supported a finding that Doe had sexually assaulted the women.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Doe’s suit alleging violations of the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and Title IX. Doe received ample due process throughout the course of his three-day hearing. View "Doe v. Michigan State University" on Justia Law

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The Health Department issued a resolution closing every school in the county—public, private, and parochial—for grades 7-12, effective December 4, to slow the spread of COVID-19. In the same county, gyms, tanning salons, office buildings, and a large casino remained open. Christian schools filed suit, arguing that the closure of their schools amounts to a prohibition of religious exercise in violation of the First Amendment.The Sixth Circuit, applying strict scrutiny, enjoined enforcement pending appeal, concluding that the closure burdens the plaintiffs' religious practices. The court noted that the schools employed “strict social distancing and hygiene standards” and that “little in-school transmission has been documented.” The court acknowledged that the resolution allowed schools to open for religious education classes or religious ceremonies and that the Department has not targeted the plaintiffs or acted with animus toward religion. The plaintiffs argued that the exercise of their faith is not compartmentalized and pervades each day of in-person schooling so that “a communal in-person environment” is critical to the exercise of their faith. The resolution treats the schools less favorably than it does “comparable secular facilities.” The court rejected an argument that it could consider only the secular actors (other schools) regulated by the resolution. The relevant inquiry is whether the “government, in pursuit of legitimate interests,” has imposed greater burdens on religious conduct than on analogous secular conduct, including gyms, salons, offices, and the Hollywood Casino, which remain open. View "Monclova Christian Academy v. Toledo-Lucas County. Health Department" on Justia Law

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Gabriel Taye, an eight-year-old Carson Elementary student, tied a necktie to his bunk bed and hung himself. Two days earlier, another Carson student attacked Taye in a school bathroom, knocking Taye unconscious for more than seven minutes. The incident was one of 12 "bullying" incidents spanning from Taye’s first-grade year at Carson until his death. The Plaintiffs allege that the then-principal and assistant principal (Jackson and McKenzie) misrepresented the severity of and outright concealed several bullying incidents involving Taye. The Plaintiffs uncovered information about these incidents after Taye’s death. The Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, also alleging state law tort claims of wrongful death, intentional infliction of serious emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, loss of consortium, failure to report child abuse, and spoliation.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of Jackson and McKenzie’s motion to dismiss. The Plaintiffs’ amended complaint sufficiently alleges that Jackson and McKenzie behaved recklessly; they are not entitled to governmental immunity under Ohio law. Jackson and McKenzie knew the full extent to which Taye was subjected to aggression and violence by his classmates. They had video footage of several of the violent incidents Taye experienced at school. Carson's behavior logs also document other routine aggressive and violent behavior among the student population. View "Meyers v. Cincinnati Board of Education" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs attended licensed Michigan cosmetology schools, each of which includes a clinic salon where students work toward the state’s 965-hour practical experience requirement. The salons are open to the public. Customers pay for beauty services provided by students and can purchase products available in the salon. The schools profit from the salons. Students are not compensated for their time. When not working on clients, students wash and fold towels, clean the studio, and perform other janitorial jobs. Students receive academic credit for the time spent on such tasks.The plaintiffs sued, seeking compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The district court granted the plaintiffs partial summary judgment, holding that they were owed compensation for certain cleaning work. The Sixth Circuit held that the district court properly focused on the specific work for which plaintiffs seek compensation, rather than on the entirety of the training program, but failed to correctly apply circuit precedent governing FLSA claims in an educational setting. On remand, the court must apply the primary-beneficiary test. Where students in a training environment seek compensation for some of the work they perform during the educational relationship, the court should consider that the students received academic credit and should evaluate the relationship between the challenged activities and the curriculum. Among the specific factors to be considered: the lack of expectation of payment; the educational value of the tasks under scrutiny; the displacement of paid employees, and the school’s competitive benefit. View "Eberline v. Douglas J. Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law