Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

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Cynthia Anthony, former interim president of Shelton State Community College; William Ashley, then-president of Shelton State; and Jimmy Baker, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System ("the ACCS") (collectively, "the college defendants"), appealed a circuit court judgment entered in favor of Khristy Large and Robert Pressley, current instructors at Shelton State, and Scheree Datcher, a former instructor at Shelton State (collectively, "the instructor plaintiffs"). Large and Pressley were instructors in the Office Administration Department ("OAD") at Shelton State; Datcher was an OAD instructor, now retired. Under college policy, an instructor was placed into one of three groups based on the instructor's "teaching area": Group A, Group B, or Group C. After an instructor was placed into a group, the instructor was ranked within the group for salary purposes according to criteria listed in the policy. The primary issue in this case was whether the instructor plaintiffs should be placed in Group A or Group B. In 2013, Joan Davis, then-interim president of Shelton State, concluded that Datcher and Pressley should have been reclassified from Group A to Group B, contrary to their credentialing document. Datcher and Pressley received higher salaries by being reclassified to Group B. When Large was hired to be an OAD instructor in 2013, she was also placed in Group B. In 2016, Chancellor Heinrich directed Anthony, then interim president, to review instructors' classifications to make sure they were properly classified. Anthony determined the instructor plaintiffs should have been classified as Group A, in accordance with the credentialing document. Thus, she reclassified the instructor plaintiffs to Group A, which resulted in decreased salaries. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the instructor plaintiffs, concluding that they are properly classified in Group B under the policy and ordering that the instructor plaintiffs be placed in Group B. The trial court also awarded the instructor plaintiffs backpay for the period following Anthony's reclassification, during which they were classified as Group A instead of Group B. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the placement of OAD instructors in Group A was "plainly incorrect." Because the college defendants lacked discretion to classify the instructor plaintiffs as Group A, the claims for backpay against them in their official capacities were not barred by the doctrine of State immunity. When Anthony left her position as interim president, her successor was automatically substituted for her with respect to the official-capacity claims alleged against her; judgment should not have been entered against her. Therefore, judgment was reversed insofar as it was entered against Anthony. The judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Anthony et al. v. Datcher, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former student at the University, filed suit against the Board of Trustees and several university officials, claiming that they violated his rights in a disciplinary action against him. This case stemmed from another University student's accusation against plaintiff for sexual assault. After the initial decision by the Title IX coordinator finding no misconduct, the other student herself publicly criticized the University's decision. Plaintiff alleges, among other things, that the University was under pressure and fearful of sanctions from the Office for Civil Rights, so it took steps harmful to him to alleviate and lessen the scrutiny that it was attracting from the other student's media blitz and protests. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss.The Eighth Circuit held that the complaint stated a claim under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that is plausible on its face. First, the allegations in the complaint support an inference that the hearing panel reached an outcome that was against the substantial weight of the evidence. Second, the panel's chosen sanctions are allegedly contrary to the ordinary disposition in cases of sexual assault by force. Third, plaintiff alleged that the University was under pressure on multiple fronts to find males responsible for sexual assault. The court held that these circumstances, taken together, are sufficient to support a plausible claim that the University discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of sex. However, the court held that plaintiff's due process claims against the University officials in their official and individual capacities were properly dismissed. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Doe v. University of Arkansas - Fayetteville" on Justia Law

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Individual parents of Hindu children in the California public schools and CAPEEM filed suit against the State Department of Education and State Board of Education, claiming discrimination against the Hindu religion in the content of the History-Social Science Standards and Framework for sixth and seventh graders.The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that the challenged content of the Standards and Framework, and process leading up to the Framework's adoption, did not disparage or otherwise express hostility to Hinduism in violation of the Constitution. The panel held that the district court properly dismissed the Equal Protection claims where the district court correctly characterized plaintiffs' claims as an indirect attack on curricula; Monteiro v. Tempe Union School District, 158 F.3d 1022 (9th Cir. 1998), bars plaintiffs' claims; and plaintiffs' dislike of challenged content does not constitute a violation of Equal Protection, absent a plausible allegation of discriminatory policy or intent.In regard to plaintiffs' claims under the Free Exercise clause, the panel held that the complaint did not allege interference with plaintiffs' exercise of their religion under the Constitution as required for a viable Free Exercise claim under Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, 137 S. Ct. 2012 (2017), and Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, 140 S. Ct. 2246, 2252 (2020). Furthermore, there are no expressions of hostility here as there was in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 138 S.Ct. 1719 (2018).In regard to the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim, the panel held that parents have the right to choose the educational forum, but not what takes place inside the school. The panel stated that parents do not have a due process right to interfere with the curriculum, discipline, hours of instruction, or the nature of any other curricular or extracurricular activities. Finally, in regard to the First Amendment Establishment clause claims, the panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to consider plaintiffs' expert report in its analysis; the Standards and Framework do not call for the teaching of biblical events or figures as historical fact, thereby implicitly endorsing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and none of plaintiffs' characterizations of the Hinduism materials as disparaging was supported by an objective reading of those materials. View "California Parents for the Equalization of Educational Materials v. Torlakson" on Justia Law

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A.C.'s Westside eighth-grade class watched a video about athletes kneeling during the national anthem. During a “critical thinking” discussion, the teacher insisted that A.C. share her ideas. A.C. stated that “kneeling was disrespectful to law enforcement and military," and questioned that violence could have stemmed from music lyrics including "F-the Police, and the use of the N-word.’” A.C. stayed home the next day due to illness. The teacher allegedly told students that A.C. was a racist and was on suspension. A.C. was subjected to bullying. After meeting with school officials, her parents removed A.C. from school. A.C. attempted suicide. Her parents contacted eight lawyers. but were unable to retain one.On behalf of A.C., they filed the pro se 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit. The court ruled that they could not serve pro se as A.C.’s representatives and lacked standing to bring individual claims that only derive from alleged violations of their child’s constitutional rights. They contacted 27 more lawyers and organizations. They refiled, requesting court-appointed counsel. The district court refused, reasoning that the claims were “not likely to be of substance,” and that A.C. lacked standing for declaratory and injunctive relief, as she was no longer a student at Westside. The Eighth Circuit affirmed that the parents may not represent A.C. pro se but remanded with directions to appoint counsel. The court did not err in considering the potential merit of the claims and other relevant factors in deciding whether to request counsel but the allegation of First Amendment retaliation is a serious claim on which the plaintiffs and the court would benefit from the assistance of counsel. View "Crozier v. Westside Community School District" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants in an action brought by a student and Turning Point USA, alleging that defendants violated plaintiffs' rights under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Plaintiffs aimed to recruit students for a local Turning Point chapter by setting up a table at the Union Patio. University administrators then asked that the student take down her table.The court held that the patio is a limited designated public forum in which speech restrictions must be reasonable and viewpoint neutral. Furthermore, the Tabling Policy was not viewpoint-discriminatory. The court held that the Tabling Policy, as applied to the student, is unconstitutional because the distinction between registered student organizations and individual students is not reasonable, when the sole justification offered for the distinction provides no meaningful reason for differentiating the two. Therefore, plaintiffs have put forward sufficient facts to show a constitutional violation. However, the court held that defendants were properly granted qualified immunity because the student's First Amendment right to access a limited public forum, which she was unjustifiably denied, was not clearly established at the time. View "Turning Point USA at Arkansas State University v. Rhodes" on Justia Law

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Duval, a special education teacher in the Lansing district, was under the supervision of Bacon until 2011. Several teachers reported Duval’s physical abuse of students. Bacon apparently did not address those reports. When Bacon retired. Robinson became principal. Upon Robinson’s arrival, the school’s union representative presented her with a full envelope of statements regarding Duvall’s mistreatment of students and women. After additional reports, Robinson referred the complaint to HR and requested an investigation by the District’s Director of Public Safety. Reports had been made to the Lansing police; employees of the Community Mental Health Authority and Guardianship Services made additional reports. Following a “firestorm” of complaints, and a brief suspension Duval was transferred to the Gardner school. The reports of abuse continued.In 2014, C.G., who has autism spectrum disorder, was a student at Gardner. Duvall allegedly abused C.G. by throwing him into furniture and kicking him in response to minor misbehavior. The Lansing police department charged Duval with child abuse. Duval resigned.In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violation of C.G.’s right to bodily integrity under the Due Process Clause, the district court dismissed Plaintiff’s claims against several supervisory employees. The Sixth Circuit reversed. There is sufficient evidence of a direct chain of causation between the “deliberate indifference” of the supervisors and C.G.’s abuse. View "Garza v. Lansing School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit asserting Title IX violations and various state law claims against the University after it began disciplinary proceedings that resulted in plaintiff's suspension. The disciplinary proceedings arose from a fellow student's accusation against plaintiff of sexual misconduct.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the University. The court held that, while the district court erred by rejecting Rollins v. Cardinal Stritch Univ., 626 N.W.2d 464, 470 (Minn. Ct. App. 2001), and formulating a reasonable care standard that no Minnesota court has adopted, even applying the more permissive reasonable care standard, no reasonable jury would find the investigators' actions showed bias against plaintiff. In this case, no reasonable jury would find bias because the investigators did question the accuser about inconsistencies in her story and found her to be credible. Furthermore, no implication of bias arises by asking the accuser to preserve evidence or by offering her mental health services. View "Doe v. University of St. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Johnson, a student at North Central, reported that she had been raped at an apartment complex by two classmates, Froschauer and Risley. North Central Principal Kirk was aware of a previous rape allegation against Froschauer, made by one of Johnson’s friends. Pending investigations by the Department of Child Services and the sheriff’s department, Principal Kirk issued a no‐contact order between Johnson and Froschauer. The school’s lawyers advised Principal Kirk not to “negatively impact [Froschauer’s] track to graduate on time based on unsubstantiated allegations.” Johnson’s physician and Hawker had requested that Johnson be placed in homebound schooling. Principal Kirk placed Johnson in homebound schooling so that she could avoid her morning classes with Froschauer. She still went to school in the afternoons. The prosecutor did not file criminal charges against Froschauer. The sheriff’s department would not release details of the investigation to the school. Her family refused to allow the school to interview Johnson for a Title IX investigation. Johnson subsequently alleged some bullying at school and obtained a protective order against Froschauer. Johnson alleged additional harassment and eventually withdrew from North Central.In her suit under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681(a), the district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Johnson waived any arguments regarding the district court’s evidentiary rulings. The school was not deliberately indifferent to Johnson’s claims of sexual harassment, View "Johnson v. Northeast School Corp." on Justia Law

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In 2013, Siddique applied for a temporary student-government position at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His application was said to have been rejected because he did not meet a minimum-enrollment requirement crafted for the position. Siddique argued that his application was rejected not because of the enrollment criteria but because of his critical stances against members of the University administration who worked with the student government and who were involved with the application process.Siddique sued University officials in their individual capacities, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violation of his First Amendment right to be free from governmental retaliation. The district court determined that qualified immunity prevented Siddique’s claim from proceeding. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Federal law does not clearly establish that enforcing an enrollment requirement for a student-government position violates the First Amendment. The right to public employment free from retaliation is not at issue and any violation of state law is irrelevant. View "Siddique v. Laliberte" on Justia Law

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The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 can protect transgender students from school bathroom policies that prohibit them from affirming their gender.Plaintiff, a transgender male, filed suit alleging that the school board's bathroom policy, which excluded him from the boys bathrooms, violated the Equal Protection Clause and constituted discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX. Plaintiff subsequently amended his complaint to add that the school board's refusal to amend his school records similarly violates both equal protection and Title IX.After rejecting the school board's threshold challenges, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiff. The court held that the school board's restroom policy constitutes sex-based discrimination and, independently, that transgender persons constitute a quasi-suspect class. Applying heightened scrutiny, the court held that the school board's policy is not substantially related to its important interest in protecting students' privacy. The court also held that the school board's continued refusal to update plaintiff's school records similarly violates his equal protection rights where the school board's decision is not substantially related to its important interest in maintaining accurate records because his legal gender in the state of Virginia is male, not female. In regard to the Title IX claims, the court held that the bathroom policy discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of sex and that plaintiff suffered legally cognizable harm based on the unlawful discrimination. Likewise, the school board's failure to amend plaintiff's school records violated Title IX.Finally, the court noted that the proudest moments of the federal judiciary have been when it affirms the burgeoning values of our bright youth, rather than preserves the prejudices of the past. View "Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board" on Justia Law