Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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The case involves plaintiff-appellant Cassandra Kincaid, an assistant principal at Central Middle School in Kansas, who claimed that she was harassed by the Unified School District No. 500 in retaliation for her reporting a student-on-student sexual assault. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the school district. The court concluded that Kincaid did not satisfy her burden of creating a genuine dispute of material fact that the reasons given for the alleged material adverse actions against her were pretextual. The court examined various aspects of the case under Title VII and Title IX, which prohibit retaliation against individuals for complaining of sex discrimination. It considered numerous allegedly adverse employment actions, including two emails sent by the school principal, a request for Kincaid's transfer, and a letter of concern. The court concluded that none of the evidence Kincaid provided created a genuine dispute of material fact about pretext. View "Kincaid v. Unified School District No. 500, Kansas City, KS" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Gracie Ann Forth appealed the grant of summary judgement entered in favor of Defendant-Appellee Laramie County School District Number 1 (“LCSD1”) on Forth’s claim under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”). Forth alleged that while she was a student at Johnson Junior High School (“JJHS”), a school within LCSD1, one of her seventh-grade teachers, Joseph Meza, sexually abused her over several years beginning in 2014. Forth alleged principals at JJHS had actual notice that Meza posed a substantial risk of abuse and were deliberately indifferent to these risks, thereby violating Title IX. On LCSD1’s motion, the district court concluded LCSD1 did not have actual notice Meza posed a substantial risk of abuse before it learned that Forth had reported him to the police. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded after review, that the district court erred in finding Forth failed to establish such notice by LCSD1 during the period before LCSD1 learned of her police report, and erred in concluding LCSD1 (in lacking such notice) was not deliberately indifferent during that period. The summary judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for the district court to address in the first instance. View "Forth v. Laramie County School District" on Justia Law

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In the fall of 2015, D.T. enrolled as a freshman at Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, Colorado. During his time at Cherokee Trail, he suffered from depression and a general decline in academic performance. His mother regularly communicated with school officials regarding his well-being and coordinated in-school support. During the first semester of his junior year, D.T. was reported for making a school shooting threat. As a result, he was expelled from Cherokee Trail and the Cherry Creek School District (“the District”) initiated a special education assessment. In December 2017, the District concluded D.T. suffered from a Serious Emotional Disability and approved an individualized education program (“IEP”) to assist his learning. D.T. appealed a district court's judgment finding the District did not deny him access to a free and appropriate public education as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). D.T. asked the Tenth Circuit to conclude the District violated its obligation to identify, or “child find,” students with disabilities who required supplementary academic supports. The Tenth Circuit declined D.T.'s request, finding the District acted reasonably to preserve his access to the benefit of general education. "The District’s duty to assess and provide D.T. with special education services did not begin until his emotional dysfunction manifested in the school environment by way of his shooting threat." View "D.T. v. Cherry Creek School" on Justia Law

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Patrick G. was a seventeen-year-old boy with autism who qualified for special educational services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and who, since 2013, has been attending the Alpine Autism Center for school. In 2016, Harrison School District No. 2 (the “School District” or the “District”) proposed transferring Patrick from Alpine to a special program at Mountain Vista Community School allegedly tailored to Patrick’s needs. Plaintiffs-Appellants Patrick’s parents challenged this decision on Patrick’s behalf, first in administrative proceedings and then in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, alleging that the School District committed a host of violations in crafting an “individualized educational plan” (“IEP”) for Patrick in 2015 and 2016. After several years of litigation, the district court determined that the expiration of Patrick’s 2016 IEP rendered the Parents’ lawsuit moot. Significantly, the district court held several related issues - including the Parents’ request for attorney’s fees from the administrative proceedings, their argument that the School District had incorrectly reimbursed the Parents’ insurance provider instead of the Parents themselves, and their motion for a “stay put” injunction to keep Patrick in his current educational placement during the proceedings - were also moot. The Parents contended on appeal to the Tenth Circuit that the district court erred by failing to find their substantive IDEA claims fell into the “capable of repetition, yet evading review” exception to mootness. And, even if their substantive IDEA claims did not fall within this exception, they argued their requests for attorney’s fees, reimbursement, and a “stay put” injunction continued to present live claims. To the latter, the Tenth Circuit agreed and remanded to the district court to rule on the merits of these claims in the first instance. To all other issues, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Patrick G., et al. v. Harrison School District No. 2" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Cl.G., on behalf of his minor son, C.G., appealed a district court’s dismissal of his case against Defendants-Appellees Cherry Creek School District (District or CCSD) and various employees for alleged constitutional violations stemming from C.G.’s suspension and expulsion from Cherry Creek High School (CCHS). In 2019, C.G. was off campus at a thrift store with three friends. He took a picture of his friends wearing wigs and hats, including “one hat that resembled a foreign military hat from the World War II period.” C.G. posted that picture on Snapchat and captioned it, “Me and the boys bout [sic] to exterminate the Jews.” C.G.’s post (the photo and caption) was part of a private “story,” visible only to Snapchat users connected with C.G. on that platform. Posts on a user’s Snapchat story are automatically deleted after 24 hours, but C.G. removed this post after a few hours. He then posted on his Snapchat story, “I’m sorry for that picture it was ment [sic] to be a joke.” One of C.G.’s Snapchat “friend[s]” took a photograph of the post before C.G. deleted it and showed it to her father. The father called the police, who visited C.G.’s house and found no threat. Referencing prior anti-Semitic activity and indicating that the post caused concern for many in the Jewish community, a CCHS parent emailed the school and community leaders about the post, leading to C.G.'s expulsion. Plaintiff filed suit claiming violations of C.G.'s constitutional rights. Defendants moved to dismiss, which was ultimately granted. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the First Amendment limited school authority to regulate off-campus student speech, particularly speech unconnected with a school activity and not directed at the school or its specific members. Defendants maintained that C.G. was lawfully disciplined for what amounts to off-campus hate speech. According to Defendants, although originating off campus, C.G.’s speech still spread to the school community, disrupted the school’s learning environment, and interfered with the rights of other students to be free from harassment and receive an education. The Tenth Circuit determined Plaintiff properly pled that Defendants violated C.G.’s First Amendment rights by disciplining him for his post; the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s first claim was reversed in part. The Court affirmed dismissal of Plaintiff’s further facial challenges to CCSD’s policies. Questions of qualified and absolute immunity and Plaintiff’s conspiracy claim were remanded for further consideration. View "C1.G v. Siegfried, et al." on Justia Law

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Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU) student Rowan Thompson had a classroom dispute with her chemistry professor that ultimately prompted Thompson to drop the professor’s class. But when Thompson emailed her former classmates to express her displeasure with the professor and to suggest that her classmates leave “honest” end-of-term evaluations. Thomas Ragland, MSU’s Associate Director for Student Conduct, allegedly prohibited Thompson from further contacting the professor or even discussing the professor with any students taking any of the professor’s classes. Thompson sued Ragland under 42 U.S.C. 1983, arguing that he violated her First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, holding that Ragland had not violated clearly established law and therefore was entitled to qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit disagreed and reversed. "Because one can infer from the allegations in the complaint that there was no proper justification for Ragland’s actions, the complaint states a violation of clearly established law governing the regulation of student speech." View "Thompson v. Ragland" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Camille Sturdivant sued her former coach on a high school dance team, Carley Fine, invoking 42 U.S.C. 1983, and alleging race discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Fine moved for summary judgment, urging qualified immunity based on the absence of: (1) an act under color of state law; and (2) a denial of equal protection. The district court denied the motion, concluding that a reasonable factfinder could infer that Fine had acted as head coach and “intentionally deprived [Camille] of educational benefits based on [her] race.” Fine appealed, presenting two alternative arguments for qualified immunity: (1) She did not act under color of state law because she was no longer employed as the head coach when she allegedly violated Camille’s rights; and (2) She did not violate a clearly established constitutional right. The Tenth Circuit determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider Fines first argument; the Court's jurisdiction in an interlocutory appeal did not extend to the applicability of section 1983. Thus, this portion of the appeal was dismissed. The Court did have jurisdiction on Fine's section argument, and found that a reasonable factfinder could find the violation of a clearly established right to equal protection. So the Court affirmed the district court’s denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity. View "Sturdivant v. Fine, et al." on Justia Law

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Dr. Rachel Tudor sued her former employer, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, under Title VII, claiming discrimination on the basis of sex, retaliation, and a hostile work environment after Southeastern denied her tenure, denied her the opportunity to reapply for tenure, and ultimately terminated her from the university. A jury found in favor of Dr. Tudor on her discrimination and retaliation claims and awarded her damages. The district court then applied the Title VII statutory cap to reduce the jury’s award, denied Dr. Tudor reinstatement, and awarded front pay. Both Dr. Tudor and the University appealed: Southeastern challenged certain evidentiary rulings and the jury verdict; Dr. Tudor challenged several of the court’s post-verdict rulings, the district court’s denial of reinstatement, the calculation of front pay, and the application of the statutory damages cap. After review, the Tenth Circuit rejected Southeastern’s challenges. Regarding Dr. Tudor’s appeal however, the Court held that there was error both in denying reinstatement and in calculating front pay, although there was no error in applying the Title VII damages cap. Affirming in part and reversing in part, the Court remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. View "Tudor, et al. v. Southeastern OK St. University, et al." on Justia Law

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Ronald Throupe, a Professor of Real Estate at the University of Denver ("DU"), brought an employment discrimination claim under Title IX against DU as well as several faculty and staff members. In 2013, Throupe was a candidate to serve as director of the Real Estate and Construction Management department. DU ultimately hired outside of the school, bringing in Barbara Jackson to lead the department. According to Throupe, upon Jackon’s arrival, she made clear in conversations with professors, she would force some of the tenured real estate faculty members to leave. In 2014, the University Title IX office was contacted multiple times about Throupe's relationship with a foreign graduate student. In an email to University officials, Jackson concluded "Ron believes he has done nothing but help this girl, but his behaviors have been totally unprofessional and inappropriate, his father/daughter views perverted, and his obsession out of control." The Title IX investigator and DU’s Manager of Equal Employment had a follow-up meeting with Throupe. Afterward, he sent an email to the Manager of Equal Employment formally reporting a hostile work environment. When Throupe later asked whether any actions had been taken in response to his report, the investigator told Throupe his claim “did not result in any formal investigation by the Office of Equal Employment.” However, the school issued him a written warning, admonishing him from further contact with the student. Throupe maintained that Jackson continued to harass him even after the written warning. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants. Although Throupe had dedicated little space in his briefing to arguing any theory of sex discrimination, the district court identified two theories of sex discrimination in Throupe’s argument: that defendants created a hostile work environment and engaged in disparate treatment against him. But the court determined that Throupe had failed to establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination under either of these theories. Having dismissed Throupe’s sole federal claim, the district court declined to consider the remaining state law claims due to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment, specifically concluding the district court did not err in concluding that Throupe failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether he was discriminated against on the basis of his sex. View "Throupe v. University of Denver" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Terri Baker appealed the dismissal of this putative class action for lack of standing. She sued on behalf of herself and her son, S.F.B., to challenge Kansas laws and school district policies that: (1) required children to be vaccinated to attend school and participate in child care programs; and (2) provided a religious exemption from these requirements. She claimed these immunization laws and policies violated various federal and state constitutional provisions and statutes. Baker argued she and S.F.B. had standing because the immunization requirements and religious exemptions injured them in two ways: (1) the District misapplied Kansas law when it granted a religious exemption for S.F.B. to attend preschool despite being unvaccinated - her fear that the District would revoke S.F.B.'s religious exemption was an injury in fact that established standing; and (2) Baker "would like the option" of placing S.F.B. in a non-accredited private school (i.e., home school), school programs, or licensed child care - she contended Kansas law inhibited her from exercising these options and caused an injury in fact because she would be unable to secure a religious exemption for S.F.B. if she tried. Finding no reversible error in the district court's dismissal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Baker v. USD 229 Blue Valley" on Justia Law