Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
by
Doe, a high-school student, suffers from a condition that makes her hypersensitive to the everyday sounds of eating food and chewing gum. Doe’s parents unsuccessfully requested that her school ban students from eating or chewing in her classes. They sued the Knox County Board of Education under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. While considering their preliminary injunction motion, the district court dismissed the suit, reasoning that Doe’s parents could obtain the requested relief in administrative proceedings under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and had failed to exhaust administrative remedies under 20 U.S.C. 1415(l).The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded. The IDEA provides relief only to students who need “specially designed instruction.” Because no ordinary English speaker would describe a ban on eating and chewing as “instruction,” her parents did not need to go through the IDEA’s review process to attempt to seek this ban under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. However, Knox County offered significant justification for its policy allowing students to eat in class at the magnet school that Doe chose to attend—a school designed to operate like a college–which the district court must consider in the first instance. View "Doe v. Knox County Board of Education" on Justia Law

by
In September 2022, the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission sent letters to Fischer, who is running for the Kentucky Supreme Court, and Winter, who is running for the Court of Appeals, stating that unidentified individuals had filed complaints, alleging they had “engaged in political or campaign activity inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary," including references to the Republican Party and “pledges, promises or commitments in connection with cases, controversies, or issues likely to come before the Court—specifically the issue of abortion.” The candidates requested additional information, identifying statements that might have prompted the complaints and explaining why the First Amendment protected the statements. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief, raising facial and as-applied challenges to Kentucky's Judicial Conduct Rules. They sought an emergency injunction pending appeal, justifying their request based on “the passage of 12 days without a ruling in the middle of an election cycle,” and the “specter of … self-censorship.”That day, the district court denied the request for a preliminary injunction on standing grounds. The Sixth Circuit granted a preliminary injunction, protecting specific campaign statements. The candidates have standing and have demonstrated a likely constitutional violation. There is a credible threat of enforcement of the Rules. The candidates have guessed which of their statements might have violated the rules; the First Amendment protects each. “When a judicial commission sends vague and threatening letters to candidates on the eve of election, it puts the candidates to a choice between self-censorship and uncertain sanctions.” View "Fischer v. Thomas" on Justia Law

by
Will started attending Farragut High School in 2015. Will’s style and his friendships created “a perception that he was alternatively sexually oriented” and affiliated “with the LGBT movement.” According to his parents, administrators targeted Will for discipline because of his appearance, perceived sexual orientation, and speech. There were several disciplinary actions that contributed to Will’s increasing anxiety and depression. Although a teacher graded an assignment in which Will expressed suicidal thoughts, nobody at the school informed his parents. During his sophomore year, Will died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.Will's parents brought a state court suit, alleging deprivation of “administrative due process” during Will’s suspension proceedings, violations of the District’s anti-harassment and suicide-prevention policies, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The District removed the suit to federal court, arguing that the “due process” allegations raised federal claims. The district court remanded the suit in 2018, based on the parents’ assertions that they raised only state law claims. Their attorney let the suit languish for years. A new attorney believed that the state law claims would fail and filed an amended complaint adding claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and claims under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681. The District removed the suit to federal court again. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the federal claims as time-barred. The parents forfeited several of their arguments by failing to raise them earlier. View "Bannister v. Knox County Board of Education" on Justia Law

by
At the Ohio State University, Dr. Strauss allegedly abused hundreds of young men under the guise of performing medical examinations, between 1978-1998. The University placed Strauss on leave in 1996, while it investigated his conduct, and ultimately declined to renew his appointments with Student Health Services and terminated his employment with the Athletics Department. It did not publicly provide reasons for these decisions. The University conducted a hearing but did not notify students or give them an opportunity to participate. Strauss remained a tenured faculty member. He retired in 1998, with emeritus status. He opened a private clinic near the University to treat “common genital/urinary problems,” advertised in the student newspaper, and continued treating students. An independent investigation commissioned by the University in 2018 and undertaken by a law firm substantiated allegations of abuse.Strauss’s victims brought Title IX suits, alleging that the University was deliberately indifferent to their heightened risk of abuse. The district court found that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Many plaintiffs adequately alleged that they did not know they were abused until 2018; the time of the abuse, they were young and did not know what was medically appropriate. Strauss gave pretextual, false medical explanations for the abuse. The plaintiffs did not have reason to know that others had previously complained about Strauss’s conduct. View "Moxley v. The Ohio State University" on Justia Law

by
The University of Kentucky investigated two dentistry professors for entering false data about whether they, or their students, had performed services for patients at a university clinic and who should be paid for those services. The professors had earned more for treating patients than they earned in salary; they had circumvented the University’s system for determining who performed services. While the investigation proceeded, the professors were barred from seeing patients in the clinic but performed their other duties. After the investigation, both professors left the University. The professors sued, alleging violations of their due process rights and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment.The Sixth Circuit reversed the denial of summary judgment to the administrators on the due process claims involving the suspension of their clinical duties and one claim of constructive discharge. Because the administrators did not violate clearly established law, qualified immunity protects them. Even if the professors had a property interest in their clinical duties, the administrators did not violate any clearly established due process right when they suspended them from working in the clinic and allowed them to continue working in other roles. The court affirmed summary judgment for the administrators on a due process claim involving the early end to one professor’s appointment and on the professors’ First Amendment retaliation claims. View "Cunningham v. Blackwell" on Justia Law

by
Lawyers brought claims against schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400. After the claims failed, the schools sought their attorney’s fees from the lawyers under the IDEA’s fee-shifting provision. The School Districts alleged that, during the administrative process, the attorneys presented sloppy pleadings, asserted factually inaccurate or legally irrelevant allegations, and needlessly prolonged the proceedings. The lawyers asked their insurer, Wesco, to pay the fees. Wesco refused on the ground that the requested attorney’s fees fell within the insurance policy’s exclusion for “sanctions.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Wesco. The IDEA makes attorney misconduct a prerequisite to a fee award against a party’s lawyer, so the policy exclusion applied. The court noted that the legal community routinely describes an attorney’s fees award as a “sanction” when a court grants it because of abusive litigation tactics. View "Wesco Insurance Co. v. Roderick Linton Belfance, LLP" on Justia Law

by
Charlton-Perkins, a male research scientist, applied for a professorship at the University of Cincinnati (UC) in late 2017. He alleges that UC determined him the most qualified candidate for the position but refused to hire him on account of his gender, then canceled the job search itself, ensuring that Charlton-Perkins could never fill the position.The district court dismissed his complaint under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681 and 42 U.S.C. 1983, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Because nobody ever filled the canceled position, it reasoned, Charlton-Perkins’s claims never ripened into an adverse employment action, and thus he suffered no concrete injury cognizable in federal court. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Charlton-Perkins plausibly alleged a ripe employment discrimination claim, so his suit may proceed. No matter whether somebody else ever got the spot, it has always been the case that Charlton-Perkins was denied the spot. He has always had that de facto injury, no matter whether someone else got the position instead. Charlton-Perkins claims that the defendants not only failed to hire him because of his gender, but they then canceled the search itself as a pretext to conceal the discriminatory reason for the failure to hire. View "Charlton-Perkins v. University of Cincinnati" on Justia Law

by
Head Start is a federal program that funds early childhood education for low-income children and provides other resources and education to the children’s families. Michigan Head Start grantees challenged the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Head Start program staff, contractors, and volunteers imposed by an interim final rule of the Department of Health and Human Services. The district court denied a preliminary injunction.The Sixth Circuit denied an injunction pending appeal. The plaintiffs have not shown that they will likely prevail on the merits. HHS likely did not violate the Administrative Procedure Act when it promulgated the vaccine requirement through an interim final rule instead of notice-and-comment rulemaking, 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B). That rule contains ample discussion of the evidence in support of a vaccine requirement and the justifications for the requirement, 86 Fed. Reg. 68,055-059. HHS likely has the statutory authority to issue a vaccine requirement for Head Start program staff, contractors, and volunteers under 42 U.S.C. 9836a(a)(1)(A), (E). The risk that unvaccinated staff members could transmit a deadly disease to Head Start children—who are ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccine due to their young age—is “a threat to the health” of the children. The court noted HHS’s history of regulating the health of Head Start children and staff. View "Livingston Educational Service Agency v. Becerra" on Justia Law

by
Two female students at Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), were videoed by other students engaging in sexual activity with male students at school. One student told school officials that the incident was forcible rape; afraid to remain at the school, she enrolled in a new school. When the other girl’s mother asked that something be done about the circulation of the video, school officials stated that it was a criminal matter and to contact Metro Police; the girl was called names in the hallway and threatened. She finished the school year at home.In a suit alleging violations of Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681(a), and constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the district court granted MNPS summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded. Disciplinary records established that MNPS was aware of issues with sexual harassment in the school system before the two students reported their incidents. Many of these incidents involved photos or videos. To hold MNPS is immune from liability as long as no student is assaulted twice, would defeat Title IX’s purpose. With respect to one girl’s treatment after notifying the school of her harassment, a reasonable jury could conclude that, rather than take steps to remedy the violation, MNPS opted to avoid the problem, resulting in her having to homeschool or endure further misconduct. View "Doe v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County" on Justia Law

by
Hasanaj, a teacher certified in Michigan, was employed by the Detroit Public Schools as a teacher for 10 years under a series of contracts. After about seven years, the District stopped sending him contract renewal notices. Hasanaj received “ineffective” ratings in the three years that followed. The District dismissed him as required by Mich. Comp. Laws 380.1249(2)(j).Hasanaj sued, alleging procedural due process violations because he and defendants “acted with the understanding that he had tenure,” the evaluation ratings violated Michigan’s statutory evaluation system, and now he cannot use his certificate to teach in Michigan. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit. Hasanaj has not satisfied Michigan’s Teachers’ Tenure Act, Mich. Comp. Laws 38.71-.191, and has no protected property interest in continued employment. Hasanaj has not alleged that he satisfied the statutory probation requirements to acquire tenure. A contract or a tacit understanding cannot override the statutory requirements. It is irrelevant that Hasanaj stopped receiving contract renewal notices, that the three-strikes provision was invoked for firing him, that he was notified that he could appeal to the Tenure Commission, and that the parties stipulated before the Tenure Commission that Hasanaj obtained tenure. Nor was he deprived of his liberty to pursue his profession because he still holds a valid certificate to teach. View "Hasanaj v. Detroit Public Schools Community District" on Justia Law