Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
B.L., as an MAHS freshman, was on the junior varsity cheerleading squad. The next year, she was again placed on JV. An incoming freshman made the varsity team. B.L took a photo of herself and her friend with their middle fingers raised and posted it to her Snapchat story that was visible to about 250 “friends.” The caption stated: “Fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything.” A teammate took a screenshot and sent it to a cheerleading coach. Another coach stated that: “Several students” had approached her, “visibly upset” about the snaps. The coaches decided B.L.’s snap violated team and school rules, which required cheerleaders to “have respect for [their] school, coaches, . . . [and] other cheerleaders”; avoid “foul language and inappropriate gestures”; and refrain from sharing “negative information regarding cheerleading, cheerleaders, or coaches . . . on the internet.” The coaches removed B.L. from the team. School authorities upheld the decision.B.L. filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in B.L.’s favor. B.L. did not waive her speech rights by agreeing to the team’s rules; her suspension from the team implicated the First Amendment even though extracurricular participation is merely a privilege. B.L.’s snap was off-campus speech and had not caused any actual or foreseeable substantial disruption of the school environment. View "B.L. v. Mahanoy Area School District" on Justia Law

by
Doe, a student at USciences, a private Philadelphia college, had completed nearly all the coursework required to earn a degree in biomedical science when two female students accused him of violating USciences’s Sexual Misconduct Policy. After investigating, USciences concluded that Doe violated the Policy and expelled him. Doe filed suit, alleging that USciences was improperly motivated by sex when it investigated and enforced the Policy against him. Doe also asserted that USciences breached its contract with him by failing to provide him the fairness promised to students under the Policy. The district court dismissed Doe’s complaint. The Third Circuit reversed. Doe’s complaint contains plausible allegations that USciences, in its implementation and enforcement of the Policy, succumbed to pressure from the U.S. Department of Education and has “instituted solutions to sexual violence against women that abrogate the civil rights of men and treat men differently than women.” Doe claimed the school investigated him but chose not to investigate three female students who allegedly violated the Policy with respect to alcohol consumption and sex. The court analyzed the Policy’s promise of “fairness,” an undefined term, by examining federal guarantees and state case law. View "Doe v. University of the Sciences" on Justia Law

by
MHS, a private, non-denominational school, hired the Darringtons as full-time houseparents for student housing. The Union represents full-time MHS houseparents. The collective bargaining agreement arbitration provision covers “any dispute arising out of [its] terms and conditions,” including the “discipline or discharge” of Union members. A grievance includes “any dispute alleging discrimination against any [Union members].” The Union, on behalf of itself and any allegedly aggrieved Union members, waived any right to a private lawsuit alleging employment discrimination regarding matters encompassed within the grievance procedure. If aggrieved Union members are unsatisfied with the resolution of their disputes after discussions with MHS officials, “the Union [may seek] further consideration” by submitting the grievance to arbitration on their behalf.The Darringtons filed unsuccessful reports with the local state agency for children and youth services, concerning MHS's mandatory religious programming. They then filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission alleging discrimination based on religion. Two months later, MHS fired the Darringtons, who filed additional charges. After receiving right-to-sue letters, the Darringtons filed a complaint, alleging discrimination and retaliation, Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court denied MHS’s motion to compel arbitration. The Third Circuit reversed. The CBA clearly and unmistakably waives a judicial forum for the statutory discrimination claims. View "Darrington v. Milton Hershey School" on Justia Law

by
Ali, a non-practicing Muslim of Egyptian descent, was a non-tenured high school teacher. His supervisor received complaints about Ali’s instruction on the Holocaust. One English teacher reported that her students were questioning historical accounts of the Holocaust, opining that Hitler didn’t hate the Jews and that the death counts were exaggerated. Students’ written assignments confirmed those accounts. Ali also presented a lesson on the September 11 terrorist attacks, requiring students to read online articles translated by the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Ali posted links to the articles on a school-sponsored website: “U.S. Planned, Carried Out 9/11 Attacks—But Blames Others” and “U.S. Planning 9/11 Style Attack Using ISIS in Early 2015.” The MEMRI articles also contained links to other articles, such as “The Jews are Like a Cancer, Woe to the World if they Become Strong.” A reporter questioned Principal Lottman and Superintendent Zega. Lottman directed Ali to remove the MEMRI links from the school’s website. The following morning, Ali met with Zega and Lottman; his employment was terminated.Ali sued under New Jersey law and 42 U.S.C. 1981, claiming that Lottman referred to him as “Mufasa,” asked Ali if “they had computers in Egypt,” and remarked on his ethnicity during the meetings that resulted in Ali’s termination. He alleged discrimination, hostile work environment, free speech and academic freedom violations, and defamation. The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Ali cannot show that his termination for teaching anti-Semitic views was a pretext for discrimination. View "Ali v. Woodbridge Township School District" on Justia Law

by
According to its website, the University of Northern New Jersey, founded in 2012, was “nationally accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and the Commission on English Language Accreditation” and “certified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Student and Exchange Visitor Program to educate international students.” The site included a statement from UNNJ's President, Dr. Brunetti, and its social media accounts informed students of closings for inclement weather and of alumni marriages. The University never existed. The Department of Homeland Security created the “sham university” to catch brokers of fraudulent student visas. It ensnared many such brokers; hundreds of foreign students “enrolled.” The government initially conceded that those students were innocent victims, but later suggested that they were akin to participants in the fraudulent scheme. Each enrolled student (including the plaintiffs) received a letter informing them that their student status had been terminated due to fraudulent enrollment. The government charged 21 individuals with fraudulently procuring visas. The plaintiffs filed a class action. The district court dismissed the claims, finding that there was no final government action. The Third Circuit vacated. Reinstatement proceedings are not required and would not afford an opportunity for review of DHS’s decision to terminate their F1 visa status. The students need not wait until removal proceedings are instituted to challenge the termination of their student status; neither immigration judges nor the BIA have authority to overturn the denial of reinstatement. View "Fang v. Director United States Immigration & Customs Enforcement" on Justia Law

by
When McKinney was granted tenure in 1974, his employment was governed by University Policies that provide that tenured faculty can be terminated only “for cause” and provide yearly salary raises for faculty who perform satisfactorily or meritoriously. Any salary increase for “maintenance” or merit becomes part of the base contract salary. No explicit provisions govern salary decreases; the Policy provides procedures to address complaints about salary decisions and requires that a faculty member “judged unsatisfactory” be informed of specific reasons related to teaching ability, achievements in research and scholarship, and service. In McKinney’s 2010 and 2011 reviews, Dean Keeler expressed concern about declining enrollment in McKinney’s classes, poor student evaluations, and a stagnant research agenda, but granted standard 2.0% and 1.5% maintenance increases. In 2012, McKinney ranked last among the Grad School faculty and was rated “less than satisfactory.” McKinney’s salary was increased by 0.5%. He was told that if his performance did not improve, he could receive a salary reduction. McKinney again ranked last in the 2013 review. Dean Keeler reduced his salary by 20%. McKinney sued, alleging that the University unconstitutionally deprived him of his property interest in his base salary. Reversing the district court, the Third Circuit concluded that he had no such property interest. The Policy language is not sufficient to give McKinney a “legitimate expectation” in the continuance of his base salary. The appeal provisions and the three-tiered rating structure indicate that salaries are subject to “possible annual adjustments,” and that McKinney had no more than a “unilateral expectation of receiving [his] full salary,” View "McKinney v. University of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law