Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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Defendant Milton Town School District and plaintiff, a high-school football player who sued the District after being assaulted by team members during an off-campus team dinner at the residence of one of the players, both appealed various trial court rulings and the jury’s verdict in favor of plaintiff following a five-day trial. Plaintiff sued the District in 2017 claiming negligent supervision and a violation of the Vermont Public Accommodations Act (VPAA) in connection with his assault at the hands of fellow football team members at an on off-campus dinner in the fall of 2012. At that time, Plaintiff was a freshman, and the District was aware that members of the football team had a history of harassment, including sexual assaults and hazing, against underclassmen team members. In October 2012, nine or ten members of the team, including plaintiff, attended a team dinner at one of the player’s parents’ home. At some point that evening, plaintiff was dragged down to the basement and thrown onto a couch, where one player held plaintiff down while another player forcibly inserted a pool cue into plaintiff’s rectum. The school principal spoke to plaintiff and another football player after learning that some incoming freshman did not want to play football because they had heard rumors of team members using broomsticks to initiate new team members. When the principal told plaintiff that she would shut down the football program if the rumors proved to be true, plaintiff denied the rumors because he feared retaliation from other students for causing the football program to be shut down. The principal then directed plaintiff to speak to the incoming freshman and tell him he had lied about the use of broomsticks during the initiation of new team members. When the principal informed the district superintendent about the rumors, the superintendent declined to do anything further. In April 2014, the Department for Children and Families (DCF) opened an investigation into allegations concerning the Milton High School football team. The Chittenden County State’s Attorney later filed criminal charges against five Milton High School football players, including plaintiff’s attackers, all of whom pled guilty to criminal offenses related to harassment, hazing, and assault. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Blondin v. Milton Town School District et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a number of independent school districts, school boards, parents, students, and citizens, challenged the implementation of Act 46, as amended by Act 49, regarding the involuntary merger of school districts. The Vermont Legislature enacted those laws in 2015 and 2017, respectively, to improve educational outcomes and equity by designing more efficient school governance structures in response to long-term declining student enrollment and balkanized educational governance and delivery systems. In separate decisions, the civil division dismissed several counts of plaintiffs’ amended complaint and then later granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the remaining counts. In two consolidated appeals, plaintiffs argued that: (1) the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education failed to carry out the plain-language mandate of Act 46; and (2) the Board’s implementation of the law, as manifested in its final order, violated other statutes in Title 16 and several provisions of the Vermont Constitution. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the Agency’s and Board’s implementation of the law was consistent with the challenged Acts and other statutes in Title 16, did not result from an unlawful delegation of legislative authority, and did not violate any other constitutional provisions. Accordingly, the civil division’s decisions were affirmed. View "Athens School District et al. v. Vermont State Board of Education et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Huntington School District appealed the civil division’s order dismissing its complaint on motion of the two state defendants and granting defendant Mount Mansfield Modified Unified Union School District's motion for judgment on the pleadings. This case was one of several lawsuits challenging the implementation of Act 46 (as amended by Act 49) regarding the involuntary merger of school districts. Plaintiff raised four issues on appeal; three of those were resolved by the Vermont Supreme Court in a contemporaneously issued opinion concerning another challenge to the implementation of Acts 46 and 49, Athens Sch. Dist. et al. v. State Board of Education, 2020 VT 52. In this opinion, the Supreme Court set forth only the law and procedural history relevant to plaintiff’s single claim of error not decided in Athens School District: that the State Board of Education exceeded its delegated authority under Act 46 “by designating Huntington as a member of Mount Mansfield and purporting to subdelegate to Mount Mansfield the power to merge Huntington.” In relevant part, plaintiff alleged in its complaint that because Mount Mansfield was a union school district receiving incentives under Acts 153 and 156, the Board could not order Huntington to merge or otherwise alter its governance structure pursuant to Act 46, section 10(b). Plaintiff also alleged that the Board acted beyond its authority by calling for Mount Mansfield to vote on merger pursuant to 16 V.S.A. 721, while at the same time not allowing plaintiff to veto the merger by its own vote under the same statute. The state defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a viable claim for relief, and Mount Mansfield moved for judgment on the pleadings. The Supreme Court found "unavailing" plaintiff's argument that Act 46 as amended did not authorize the Board to order Huntington to merge with Mount Mansfield, conditioned upon the consent of coters in Mount Mansfield's member districts. Nor did the Court found any merit to plaintiff's argument that the Board's authority was unlawfully subdelegated. As we stated with respect to the plaintiffs in Athens School District, plaintiff in this case did not demonstrate the Board failed to apply any Title 16 provisions in circumstances in which they were applicable. View "Huntington School District v. Vermont State Board of Education et al." on Justia Law

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The Washington South Education Association was the representative of all licensed teachers within the Northfield schools. The Northfield School Board and the Association negotiated and entered into the CBA, which was in effect from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018. Paul Clayton was a middle-school physical-education teacher at the Northfield Middle High School (the School) and was a member of the Association. Therefore, Clayton’s employment was subject to the CBA. In late fall 2017, administrators at the School received complaints about Clayton’s workplace conduct. The complaints alleged that Clayton created a hostile work environment by intimidating his colleagues and advised a student (his daughter) to punch another student in the face. In response to the allegations, Clayton was placed on paid leave while the administrators investigated the complaints and interviewed a number of the School’s staff. Upon the conclusion of their investigation, the administrators wrote a letter to the School’s superintendent describing their findings and noting that while they gave Clayton the opportunity to respond, Clayton declined to respond in a follow-up meeting and then a second meeting scheduled to receive his rebuttal a few days later. After receiving the administrators’ letter, the superintendent wrote a letter to Clayton offering him an opportunity to meet with her to discuss the matter, and attached to the letter a summary of the allegations against Clayton. About a week later, the superintendent met with Clayton and his Association representation. Clayton did not file a notice of appeal of his ultimate suspension. Shortly thereafter, Clayton and the Association, now represented by the Vermont affiliate of the National Education Association (Vermont-NEA), submitted a grievance alleging a violation the CBA. The Board declined to accept the grievance, noting Clayton did not follow the prescribed termination procedures outlined in the CBA. Vermont-NEA thereafter invoked the CBA's arbitration procedures. A trial court agreed with the Board, and Clayton and the Association appealed. The Vermont Supreme Court determined Clayton and the Association failed to exhaust statutory remedies as required by 16 V.S.A. 1752, thus the trial court properly enjoined arbitration. View "Northfield School Board v. Washington South Education Association" on Justia Law

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Mother appealed an order concluding that her children were children in need of care or supervision (CHINS) due to educational neglect. In April 2018, the State filed a petition alleging that B.C., born in January 2007, Bo.B., born in May 2012, and Br.B., born in April 2013, were CHINS for lack of proper education necessary for their well-being. B.C. had been referred to an educational support team because she was not meeting certain achievement levels in her educational program. In prior years, there had been three educational neglect/truancy assessments involving B.C. In January 2018, the assistant principal reported to the Department for Children and Families (DCF) that B.C. had missed twenty-two days and Bo.B. had missed thirty-two days of school and all absences were unexcused. By March 2018, B.C. and Bo.B. had missed thirty-eight and fifty days of school, respectively. DCF contacted mother, who asserted that the absences were occurring because she was not receiving sufficient support from the school, the children were often absent due to illness, and transportation was a barrier. When asked, mother did not appear to understand the details of Bo.B.’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). DCF set up a plan to implement services through NCSS in March, however, mother cancelled the meeting. The court found that the three children were CHINS due to the parents’ inability to provide for the children’s educational needs. The court found that the children’s absences resulted in missed educational opportunities that put them at risk of harm, especially in light of their needs. On appeal, mother argued: (1) the court erred in not requiring the State to demonstrate that the children’s absences were without justification; (2) the evidence did not support the court’s finding that missing school caused the children harm; (3) the existence of IEPs for the two young children, who were not legally required to attend school, did not support a finding of educational neglect; and (4) the court erred in admitting the school attendance records. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed as to B.C. and reversed and remanded the CHINS determinations as to Bo.B. and Br.B. "[T]he evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that Bo.B. and Br.B. were at risk of harm for educational neglect given that they were not required to attend school and mother could discontinue the services related to their IEPs without any presumption of neglect." View "In re B.B., B.C., and B.B., Juveniles" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed a trial court’s order granting defendants’ motion for summary judgment on their negligence claims. Plaintiffs were Jordan Preavy’s mother, Tracy Stopford, in her individual capacity and as administrator of his estate, and his father, Sean Preavy. They alleged their son tcommitted suicide as a result of being assaulted by some of his teammates on the Milton High School football team, which, according to plaintiffs, the school negligently failed to prevent. On appeal, plaintiffs argued the court did not properly apply the summary judgment standard nor the appropriate duty of care and that it erred when it concluded that plaintiffs failed to prove that the assault was foreseeable and that it was the proximate cause of Jordan’s suicide. Further, plaintiffs argued the court improperly imposed a monetary sanction on their attorney after finding that he engaged in a prohibited ex parte communication with defendants’ expert witness. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Stopford v. Milton Town School District" on Justia Law

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A group of residents in South Burlington, Vermont presented a petition for a district-wide vote on whether to reinstate "Rebels" as the name for the District's athletic teams after the South Burlington School District decided to change the name. The District refused to include the item in a district-wide vote and residents appealed, alleging that the District violated their rights under the Vermont Constitution and seeking an order compelling the District to include the item on the ballot. The trial court denied the District’s motion to dismiss, concluding that residents presented sufficient facts to support their request. The District then filed this interlocutory appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that neither the applicable statutes nor the Vermont Constitution compelled the District to put the petitions to a district-wide vote. Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court’s order and remanded for entry of judgment for the District. View "Skiff, Jr. v. South Burlington School District" on Justia Law