Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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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

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Conti attended the University of Michigan, 1999-2003, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in musical arts. Conti obtained private loans from Citibank totaling $76,049. Conti’s loan applications are all expressly “[f]or students attending 4-year colleges and universities.” They request information regarding the school’s identity and the academic year and specify that the student may “borrow up to the full cost of education less any financial aid.” The applications include a section where the school financial aid office can certify the applicant’s year, enrollment status, and recommended disbursement dates. Each application incorporates by reference an attached promissory note, stating that “the proceeds of this loan are to be used for specific educational expenses.” Citibank apparently disbursed each loan to Michigan directly. None of the loan amounts exceeded the cost of attendance at Michigan for the relevant enrollment period minus the maximum sum of Conti's federal Pell grant for the same period. In 2011-2016, Conti made payments on the loans, which were assigned to Arrowood.In 2017, Conti filed for voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy, listing the Citibank loans as dischargeable. Conti filed an adversary proceeding seeking to determine that they were not excepted “qualified education loan[s]” under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(8). The bankruptcy court granted Arrowood summary judgment. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed. The plain language of the loan documents demonstrated they were qualified education loans. View "Conti v. Arrowood Indemnity Co." on Justia Law

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Foster and the respondent were classmates at the University of Michigan’s executive MBA program based in Los Angeles. Students participated in monthly, weekend sessions at a hotel. Foster developed a friendship with the respondent but they did not have a dating or sexual relationship. The respondent began sending complimentary texts, giving Foster unsolicited gifts, expressing romantic interest. and making unwanted physical contact. He came to her hotel room and removed his clothing. Foster reported the sexual harassment to the University, which arranged that the two not stay in the same hotel, eat together, attend social functions together, or interact in class. Foster was not satisfied with the arrangements. During the next “residency,” the respondent sent vulgar text messages to administrators, violated the restrictions, and was barred from the second day of classes. His communications became increasingly aggressive. Foster obtained a restraining order but the respondent appeared at graduation in Michigan. The district court rejected Foster’s deliberate-indifference claim under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681–1688, on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit initially reversed but on rehearing, en banc, affirmed. The University was not “deliberately indifferent” to Foster’s plight. At each stage, the University increased protections: from a no-contact order after the first complaint to a requirement that the harasser stay in a separate hotel, to removal from the session, to an order that he not attend graduation. View "Foster v. Board of Regents of the University of Michigan" on Justia Law

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On November 18, 2020, in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases, Kentucky Governor Beshear issued Executive Order 2020-969, prohibiting in-person instruction at all public and private elementary and secondary schools; elementary schools may, under certain circumstances, reopen for in-person instruction between December 7 and January 4, 2021; middle and high schools may reopen for in-person instruction no sooner than January 4, 2021. The order exempts “small group in-person targeted services” and “private schools conducted in a home solely for members of that household,” and exempts, by omission, preschools and colleges or universities. Kentucky “leads the nation in children living with relatives other than their parents – including grandparents and great-grandparents, who are especially vulnerable” and have high rates of comorbidities that can lead to severe cases of COVID-19, including heart and lung conditions.”In a challenge under the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment and the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the district court enjoined the Governor from enforcing the order against any private, religious school that otherwise adheres to Kentucky public health measures. The Sixth Circuit granted the Governor’s motion to stay the order pending appeal, stating that the plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on the merits of their Free Exercise claim. The order is neutral and of general applicability. The court distinguished recent Supreme Court rulings concerning religious institutions. View "Danville Christian Academy Inc. v. Beshear" on Justia Law

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Ryan, a tenured professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky, was accused of misusing department resources to make a larger profit off a textbook he had authored. He was asked to resign but refused to do so. Ryan brought suit alleging that the defendants retaliated against him for asserting his due process and First Amendment rights after he refused to resign.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Ryan’s claim. Ryan’s due process rights were not violated; a faculty committee conducted an investigation into his conduct and made its recommendation not to terminate Ryan’s employment. A statement to the press by the University’s provost was not sufficiently chilling that it would deter a person of ordinary firmness from refusing to resign, and cannot be considered retaliation. Ryan failed to state a claim for First Amendment retaliation because the facts alleged do not implicate a matter of public concern. Furthermore, because Ryan failed to allege a violation of a clearly established constitutional right, he is not able to overcome qualified immunity. View "Ryan v. Blackwell" on Justia Law