Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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

by
In 2010, G.S., his parents, his sisters, and his paternal grandparents moved into a home in Rose Tree School District. The children attended Rose Tree schools. In 2014, G.S.’s parents lost the home. The family moved in with his maternal grandmother, outside the district. G.S. slept in the living room with his parents and sisters. Rose Tree deemed G.S. homeless and continued his enrollment under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. 11432(g)(3)(A)(i). G.S. was involved in a disciplinary incident. G.S.'s parents challenged Rose Tree's suspension of G.S. and threats of expulsion. In a settlement Rose Tree agreed to pay for G.S. to attend a school outside of its jurisdiction in 2015–16; G.S.’s parents agreed to waive all claims through August 2016. The agreement purported to waive G.S.’s right to claim homelessness after the 2015–16 academic year. In 2016, G.S.’s parents notified Rose Tree of their intent to re-enroll G.S. for 2016–17. Rose Tree claimed that they had waived that right. The Pennsylvania Department of Education concluded that G.S. had a right to attend Rose Tree. Rose Tree continued to refuse to enroll G.S. but had continually enrolled his sister. The Third Circuit affirmed, in favor of G.S., finding that he satisfied the Act’s definition of homelessness. Continued enrollment in Rose Tree is in G.S.’s best interest. The waiver was unenforceable for lack of consideration; the tuition payment was in exchange for release of claims through August 2016. View "G.S. v. Rose Tree Media School District" on Justia Law

by
At age six, J.C. was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which affects the digestive tract and can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition. J.C.’s school performance was generally strong through sixth grade; he did not have significant behavioral difficulties. From seventh grade onward, J.C. maintained grades just above a failing mark and had numerous disciplinary incidents. By tenth grade, J.C. was absent more than 30% of the time. In 2013, Cumberland accommodated his needs to sometimes sit out physical education classes and to leave class to use the bathroom. In 2014, following a serious disciplinary incident, Cumberland adopted a Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 701, Section 504 Service Plan for J.C., providing for extra time to complete assignments and for class notes in case of frequent absences. After J.C.’s doctor stated that he should receive homebound instruction, Cumberland tried to implement that accommodation but J.C. was rarely present at home and was not cooperative. The district expelled J.C.; its psychologist’s evaluation concluded that J.C. did not have a “qualifying disability” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400. J.C.’s independent educational evaluation reached the opposite conclusion, identifying specific learning disabilities. J.C. moved to another school district. The district court reversed the Hearing Officer. The Third Circuit affirmed. J.C. was eligible under the IDEA, Cumberland had violated its duty to identify students with disabilities, and Cumberland violated Section 504 by failing to evaluate J.C.earlier. In seeing Crohn’s as something requiring only a Section 504 accommodation, not IDEA special education, Cumberland treated the disease as something discrete and isolated rather than the defining condition of J.C.’s life. View "Culley v. Cumberland Valley School District" on Justia Law

by
K.D. attended public school in the Downingtown Area School District from preschool through the first semester of third grade. Halfway through kindergarten, Downingtown assigned an Instructional Support Team to monitor K.D.’s educational progress and give her extra support. A psychologist found that K.D. had a low-average IQ (87) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). K.D. had an individualized education program (IEP) for each school year. In third grade, K.D.’s parents became dissatisfied and obtained their own neuropsychological evaluation. In the middle of third grade, Downingtown’s team met again, changed K.D.’s goals, and added new “evidence-based” programs. Her parents withdrew K.D., placed her in private school, and sought reimbursement. Pennsylvania’s Office of Dispute Resolution found that the IEPs were adequate and that Downingtown had provided K.D. with a free appropriate public education, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Because the officer applied the Third Circuit’s meaningful-benefit test. The district court entered and the Third Circuit affirmed judgment in favor of Downington. In applying the requirement of “an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances,” courts may not “substitute [our] own notions of sound educational policy for those of the school authorities which [we] review.” View "K. D. v. Downingtown Area School District" on Justia Law

by
M.B., a second-grade student with dyslexia and epilepsy, took her service dog to school to detect and respond to her seizures. In third grade, M.B. switched to the School, which had a specialized program for dyslexic students. M.B.’s mother explained the need for a dog; the principal stated that M.B. was a “good fit.” Later, M.B. was paired with a new service dog, Buddy, but the principal asserted that Buddy would be “too much of a distraction.” Because Buddy was not allowed to accompany her, M.B. had extensive absences in third and fourth grades. In fifth grade, M.B.’s pediatric neurologist recommended that Buddy accompany M.B. at school. The principal then said that another student was allergic to dogs. M.B. missed school for more than two months. The parents of the allergic student informed the principal that they had arranged for allergy treatments and did not want M.B. to be excluded on their son’s behalf. The principal finally agreed that M.B. could return with Buddy in a special therapeutic shirt. The shirt made Buddy overheated and he failed to alert to M.B.’s seizures. At one point, M.B slept on the floor for hours after seizing. M.B. withdrew and enrolled in the local public school, which allowed Buddy to accompany her. M.B. had fallen behind and had to repeat fourth grade. M.B.’s parents sued. The Third Circuit reinstated their Rehabilitation Act claim: As a matter of first impression, despite the absence of a regulation specifically interpreting the RA's mandate of “reasonable accommodations,” the RA generally requires that individuals with disabilities be permitted to be accompanied by their service animals, consistent with the mandate of “reasonable modifications” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Such requested accommodations are per se reasonable. View "Berardelli v. Allied Services Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine" on Justia Law

by
The district court refused to enjoin the School District from allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with the students’ gender identities rather than the sex they were determined to have at birth. The District required students claiming to be transgender to meet with licensed counselors. There are several multi-user bathrooms; each has individual stalls. Several single-user restrooms are available to all. "Cisgender" students claimed the policy violated their constitutional rights of bodily privacy; Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681; and tort law. The Third Circuit affirmed. Under the circumstances, the presence of transgender students in the locker and restrooms is no more offensive to privacy interests than the presence of the other students who are not transgender. The constitutional right to privacy must be weighed against important competing governmental interests; transgender students face extraordinary social, psychological, and medical risks. The District had a compelling interest in shielding them from discrimination. Nothing suggests that cisgender students who voluntarily elect to use single-user facilities face the same extraordinary consequences as transgender students would if they were forced to use them. The cisgender students were claiming a broad right of personal privacy in a space that is just not that private. The mere presence of a transgender individual in a bathroom or locker room would not be highly offensive to a reasonable person. View "Doe v. Boyertown Area School District" on Justia Law