Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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When Aleckna filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, she still owed the University (CCU) tuition. The filing of her bankruptcy petition imposed an “automatic stay” of all collection actions against her. While her case was pending, Aleckna, who had completed her coursework, asked CCU for a copy of her transcript. The University would only provide her with an incomplete transcript that did not include her graduation date, explaining that a “financial hold” had been placed on her account. Aleckna filed a counterclaim in the Bankruptcy Court arguing that CCU violated the automatic stay by refusing to provide her with a complete certified transcript, 11 U.S.C. 362(a)(6).The Bankruptcy Court found in Aleckna’s favor, concluding that she was entitled to receive her complete transcript, plus damages and attorneys’ fees because CCU’s violation was “willful.” The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Section 362(k) provides that an individual who commits a willful violation is liable for damages and attorneys’ fees unless “such violation is based on an action taken by an entity in the good faith belief” that the stay had terminated. Precedent establishes a “willfulness” defense that is distinct from one of good faith but CCU failed to show that the law regarding the transcript issue was sufficiently unsettled to establish a lack of willfulness within the meaning of that precedent. View "In re: Aleckna" on Justia Law

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H.K., a fifth-grader who has been diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional tendencies, and developmental delays, lives within the East Brunswick school district. H.K. was previously enrolled at Hatikvah, a local educational agency. Both East Brunswick and Hatikvah are funded by taxpayers, East Brunswick’s annual budget is approximately 25 times greater than Hatikvah’s budget. Hatikvah proposed an individualized education program (IEP) under which H.K. would attend Bridge, a private school. H.K.’s parents instead unilaterally enrolled H.K. in a different private school, Laurel, then filed a due process petition under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), seeking reimbursement for H.K.’s costs of attendance at Laurel. In administrative proceedings, Hatikvah agreed to implement a new IEP that kept H.K. at Laurel. East Brunswick did not participate in that proceeding but subsequently filed a separate petition with the New Jersey Department of Education, challenging H.K.’s placement at Laurel and arguing that East Brunswick could provide H.K. with a free, appropriate public education in a less restrictive environment. H.K.’s parents sought to compel East Brunswick to pay for H.K.’s costs of attending Laurel while that petition was litigated. Laurel is H.K.’s IDEA "pendent placement."The Third Circuit ruled in favor of Hatikvah. Financial responsibility for all pendent placement costs rests entirely with the resident school district under the stay-put rule, 20 U.S.C. 1415(j)m noting that East Brunswick was challenging H.K.’s placement at Laurel. View "Hatikvah International Academy Charter School v. East Brunswick Township Board of Education" on Justia Law

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S.B., a 12-year-old boy with Down Syndrome, requires special education. In 2014, S.B. and his parents moved from New York to Lakewood, New Jersey. S.B.’s parents requested an individualized education program (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 20 U.S.C. 140, from the Lakewood Township School District. Lakewood determined it could not provide S.B. an IDEA-mandated free appropriate public education (FAPE) at its own public schools. It crafted an IEP that placed S.B. at the private School for Children with Hidden Intelligence (SCHI) and reimbursed the costs. In November 2016, the family moved homes and transferred S.B. from Lakewood to the Howell School District. Howell’s staff reviewed the Lakewood IEP, met with the family, and indicated “that [S.B.’s] IEP can be implemented in [Howell’s special education] class at Memorial Elementary School where [S.B.] will receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.” His parents continued to send S.B. to SCHI. In February 2017, Howell terminated S.B.’s enrollment.After a due process hearing, an ALJ ruled for Howell. The district court granted Howell summary judgment. The Third Circuit affirmed. While section 1415(j), the “stay-put” provision, provides generally that eligible students must remain in their current educational settings during certain procedures, section 1414(d)(2)(C)(i)(I), the intrastate transfer provision, says that schools need only provide eligible transfer students comparable services to those they were previously receiving. View "Y.B. v. Howell Township Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a putative class action against the School District, claiming that shortcomings in the District’s translation and interpretation services violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400.The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the District, based on failure to exhaust administrative remedies. A “systemic exception” to IDEA’s administrative exhaustion requirement applies where plaintiffs “allege systemic legal deficiencies and, correspondingly, request system-wide relief" that cannot be addressed through the administrative process. The fact that a complaint is structured as a class action seeking injunctive relief, without more, does not excuse exhaustion; the systemic exception applies when plaintiffs challenge policies that threaten basic IDEA goals, not mere components of special education programs. Both named plaintiffs could bring the same IDEA claim from their complaint before a hearing officer who could then order that the District provide each parent with translated individualized education plans, more qualified or consistent interpretation services, or whatever process would ensure meaningful participation for that parent. Both the claim and the relief would be individualized, even if the relief could create spillover benefits for other parents. View "T.R. v. School District of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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Doe became a TCNJ tenure-track Assistant Professor in 2016, after giving birth to her third child. She alleges that the Dean and the Department Chair suggested that they were relieved that she would not need pregnancy-related accommodations in the future. Doe received positive reviews for 2017. Doe claims that after she became pregnant again, she was reassigned to a less desirable class. After Doe had her fourth child, the Dean, the Chair, and others, repeatedly asked whether she was done having children. She notified TCNJ that she was pregnant again. In 2018, a TCNJ professor attended the same class that the professor had positively reviewed in 2017 but entered a negative review; Doe claims there were no material changes. The Chair reported “non-material deficiencies” after having given her a positive review in 2017. Doe complained to the Provost, who allegedly “placed a record of discipline” in Doe’s personnel file for the Reappointment Committee. She claims she “suffered emotional trauma, became depressed, and had a miscarriage,” and that she was falsely accused of canceling classes, supported by “doctored” student comments. Doe was not reappointed.She filed suit, alleging gender, national origin, and pregnancy discrimination, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of her motion to proceed anonymously. Doe’s case does not merit appellate review under the collateral order doctrine. Nothing indicated that Doe’s interest in anonymity outweighs the public’s interest in open judicial proceedings. View "Doe v. The College of New Jersey" on Justia Law

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Shulick, an attorney, owned and operated DVHS, a for-profit business that provided alternative education to at-risk students. The School District of Philadelphia contracted with DVHS to operate Southwest School for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. DVHS was to provide six teachers at a cost of $45,000 each; benefits for the staff at a total cost of $170,000 annually; four security workers totaling $130,000 annually; and a trained counselor and two psychology externs totaling $110,000 annually. The agreement was not flexible as to budgeted items. Shulick failed to employ the required dedicated security personnel, hired fewer teachers, provided fewer benefits, and paid his educators far less than required. Shulick had represented to the District that he would spend $850,000 on salary and benefits annually but spent about $396,000 in 2010-11 and $356,000 in 2011-12. Shulick directed the unspent funds to co-conspirator Fattah, the son of a former U.S. Representative, to pay off liabilities incurred across Shulick’s business ventures, keeping a cut for himself.Shulick was convicted of conspiring with Fattah to embezzle from a program receiving federal funds (18 U.S.C. 371), embezzling funds from a federally funded program (18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(A)), bank fraud (18 U.S.C. 1344), making a false statement to a bank (18 U.S.C. 1014), and three counts of filing false tax returns (26 U.S.C. 7206(1)). The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments ranging from speedy trial violations to errors in evidentiary rulings, faulty jury instructions, and sentencing miscalculations. View "United States v. Shulick" on Justia Law

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Three Pennsylvania teachers who obtained tenure contracts under the state’s Public School Code brought a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Scranton School District deprived them of rights under the Contracts Clause when it applied a Pennsylvania law, Act 2017-55, to suspend them from employment. Act 55 amended the Public School Code to authorize the suspension of tenured teachers for economic reasons. Act 55 took effect after the plaintiffs entered into tenure contracts; they claimed the change in the law allowing for their suspensions based on economic reasons amounted to a substantial impairment of their tenure contract rights and that the suspensions were not a necessary or reasonable way to address the District’s financial problems.The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claim. The teachers failed to state a section 1983 claim premised on the Contracts Clause because their complaint and its exhibits show that the suspensions were necessary and reasonable measures to advance the significant and legitimate public purpose of combatting the budget shortage. View "Watters v. Board of School Directors of the City of Scranton" on Justia Law

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Sharkey worked as a special educator and assistant principal at Susquehanna Township High School in 2013. He and M.S., a 16-year-old female student, began a sexual relationship. Weeks later, students began spreading rumors. The District launched an investigation, which included numerous interviews with M.S., Sharkey, and others; review of Sharkey’s telephone records, and examinations of texts, emails, and photos on M.S.’s telephone and on Sharkey’s district-issued telephone. M.S. and Sharkey denied the rumors. Not finding any evidence of wrongdoing, the superintendent ended the investigation.At the beginning of the next school year, the rumors resurfaced. The District contacted the police and placed Sharkey on administrative leave. M.S. still denied having a sexual relationship with Sharkey but officers informed her that they planned to get a search warrant for her phone. The next day, M.S. and her parents met with the police; M.S. provided details about her relationship with Sharkey. Sharkey was criminally charged. The District informed Sharkey that it intended to terminate his employment and obtained his resignation.M.S. sued the District, alleging a hostile educational environment in violation of Title IX, violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, and state-law claims. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the District. Sharkey’s knowledge of his own wrongdoing is irrelevant to the District’s actual knowledge of the sexual harassment. No other appropriate person at the District had actual knowledge of the sexual relationship until days before Sharkey resigned. View "M. S. v. Susquehanna Township School District" on Justia Law

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Ramsey, a medical student. unsuccessfully sought testing accommodations for dyslexia and ADHD from the National Board of Medical Examiners. Ramsey sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the award of a preliminary injunction, requiring the Board to provide her accommodations. Ramsay established irreparable harm because she would likely be forced to withdraw from medical school if she could not take the initial test with accommodations and pass. The balance of equities tipped in her favor because granting her accommodations would not undermine the Board’s interests in fair and accurate testing and it was in the public interest for the ADA to be followed, to increase the number of physicians. Evidence that Ramsay’s reading, processing, and writing skills were abnormally low by multiple measures provided a sufficient comparison of her abilities to those of the general population to support the finding of disability. While the district court viewed Ramsay’s experts more favorably and found the Board’s experts unpersuasive, there is no indication that the court believed that it was compelled to defer to Ramsay’s experts; the court discounted the Board’s experts because they never met with Ramsay, engaged in too demanding an analysis of whether Ramsay had a disability, and overly focused on Ramsay’s academic achievements. View "Ramsay v. National Board of Medical Examiners" on Justia Law

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Navient sells student loans to borrowers and services and collects on student loans. Its “subprime loans,” which had high variable interest rates and origination fees, benefited schools by maximizing enrollment. Student borrowers were not informed that the loans had a high likelihood of default. In 2000-2007, 68-87% of Navient’s high-risk loans defaulted. Navient allegedly steered borrowers into consecutive forbearances after they had demonstrated a long-term inability to repay their loans. Navient would sometimes place borrowers in forbearance even though they would have qualified for $0 per month payments in an Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan. In 2011-2015, more than 60% of Navient’s borrowers who enrolled in IDR plans failed timely to renew their enrollment, allegedly because of deficient notifications. Navient also allegedly made misrepresentations concerning releases for cosigners and misapplied payments, resulting in borrowers and cosigners being improperly charged late fees and increased interest.Pennsylvania sued Navient under the Consumer Financial Protection Act, 12 U.S.C. 5552, and the state’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. Nine months earlier, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the states of Illinois and Washington had filed similar lawsuits. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of a motion to dismiss. The federal Act permits concurrent action. The Higher Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1001, preempts state law claims based on failures to disclose required information but does not preempt claims based on affirmative misrepresentations. View "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Navient Corp" on Justia Law