Justia Education Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
Maple Run Unified School District v. Vermont Human Rights Commission
In the case, Maple Run Unified School District (the District) appealed a trial court order which granted the Vermont Human Rights Commission (the Commission) a motion to dismiss the District’s complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The dispute arose from a complaint of sexual harassment filed by a student in the District. The student's mother later filed a complaint with the Commission alleging that the District failed to comply with the Vermont Public Accommodations Act (VPAA), the anti-harassment provisions in Title 16, and the school’s own policy. The Commission decided to investigate the matter. The District filed a motion with the Commission to dismiss the investigation, arguing that federal regulations preempted Title 16 and the complaint failed to state a prima facie case of discrimination under the VPAA. The Commission denied the District’s motion and decided to continue the investigation. The District then filed a Rule 75 petition in the civil division against the Commission, which the Commission moved to dismiss arguing that there was no cognizable avenue for relief under Rule 75 and the superior court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to review the petition. The court dismissed the District’s complaint. The District appealed claiming that subject-matter jurisdiction had been established under Rule 75 via either mandamus or prohibition. The Supreme Court of Vermont held that the Commission’s determination that the complaint states a prima facie case of discrimination under the VPAA is not reviewable under Rule 75 via either mandamus or prohibition, and therefore, the superior court did not err in dismissing the District’s petition. View "Maple Run Unified School District v. Vermont Human Rights Commission" on Justia Law
Vitale et al. v. Bellows Falls Union High School et al.
Plaintiffs were three sets of parents of schoolchildren who resided in school districts which maintained a public school for at least some grades and did not provide the opportunity for children to attend the public or independent school of their parents’ choice for all grades at the state’s expense. They raised a facial constitutional challenge to Vermont statutes that allowed school districts to choose whether to maintain a public school, permit children to attend an out-of-district public school or an independent school at the state’s expense, or some combination of both. The civil division dismissed parents’ complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vitale et al. v. Bellows Falls Union High School et al." on Justia Law
Boyd, et al. v. Vermont
In October 2017, plaintiffs Sadie Boyd (a student at Twin Valley Middle High School in Whitingham, Vermont) Madeleine Klein (a resident and property owner in Whitingham), and the Town of Whitingham filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against defendant State of Vermont, arguing that the education funding and property taxation system set forth in 16 V.S.A. ch. 133 and 32 V.S.A. ch. 135 violated the Education Clause, the Proportional Contribution Clause, and the Common Benefits Clause of the Vermont Constitution. They claimed that the system was unconstitutional because it deprived plaintiff Boyd of an equal educational opportunity, required plaintiff Klein to contribute disproportionately to education funding, and compelled the Town to collect an unconstitutional tax. The civil division granted the State’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the alleged inequities were caused by the statutes in question or that the education property taxation system lacked a rational basis. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Boyd, et al. v. Vermont" on Justia Law
McVeigh v. Vermont School Boards Association
Plaintiff Christopher McVeigh sought a declaration that defendant, the Vermont School Boards Association (VSBA), was the functional equivalent of a public agency for purposes of the Vermont Public Records Act (PRA), and therefore had to comply with plaintiff’s request for copies of its records. The civil division concluded that the VSBA was not a public agency subject to the PRA and granted summary judgment in favor of the VSBA. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "McVeigh v. Vermont School Boards Association" on Justia Law
Vasseur v. Vermont
Plaintiff Kaleb Vasseur, an elementary school student in Fayston, Vermont, filed a superior court action arguing that the way his school district elected its school board members violated the Vermont Constitution. The court dismissed the complaint for lack of constitutional standing. Plaintiff appealed the court’s order that denied his motion to amend the complaint because the proposed amended complaint also failed to satisfy the standing requirement. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "Vasseur v. Vermont" on Justia Law
Blondin v. Milton Town School District et al.
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
Athens School District et al. v. Vermont State Board of Education et al.
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
Huntington School District v. Vermont State Board of Education et al.
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
Northfield School Board v. Washington South Education Association
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
In re B.B., B.C., and B.B., Juveniles
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