Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff Melissa Donovan appealed a superior court order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), based upon the court’s finding that no public policy considerations supported plaintiff’s wrongful termination claim. From December 2016 until her resignation in November 2018, she served as Associate Dean of Faculty for Mathematics. In this role, her primary focus was oversight of faculty assignments and support for mathematics courses. In March 2018, faculty reviewed a mathematics course, MAT 136, due to concerns about the course’s design. That review revealed that instructors applied different grading schemes for the course, and that those differences were not being communicated to students. Specifically, some sections of MAT 136 employed a grading scheme that SNHU intended to phase out beginning in September 2018. In July 2018, plaintiff's supervisor emailed plaintiff identifying two students from a semester of MAT 136 who received failing grades, but, given the supervisor's assessment of certain irregularities in grading schemes, “had a case for passing.” Plaintiff refused to modify the students' grades, feeling the changes requests violated the school's grading policy and were unethical. In her claim for wrongful termination, plaintiff alleged she was admonished for declining to alter the grades, and subsequently retaliated against by the creation of a hostile work environment. On appeal of the summary judgment motion, plaintiff argued that the question as to whether public policy concerns supported her wrongful termination claim, which alleged that she was constructively discharged as a result of her refusal to alter the students' grades, should have been resolved by a jury and not the trial court, as a matter of law. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the court did not err because complaints about the application of internal grading decisions by a private university do not implicate public policy considerations necessary to support a wrongful termination claim. View "Donovan v. Southern New Hampshire University" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition prohibiting enforcement of a preliminary injunction against the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (WVSSAC) in favor of Heather B. as legal guardian of A.B., holding that WVSSAC showed that it was entitled to the writ.In issuing the preliminary injunction the circuit court concluded that the WVSSAC applied its "waiver rule," W. Va. C.S.R. 127-2-2, in an arbitrary and capricious manner and that its "residence-transfer rule," W. Va. C.S.R. 127-2-7.2a, was facially unconstitutional. The Supreme Court granted a writ prohibiting enforcement of the injunction, holding (1) the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to review A.B.'s as-applied challenge to the WVSSAC's waiver rule; and (2) the circuit court clearly erred in finding the residence-transfer rule to be facially unconstitutional. View "State ex rel. W. Va. Secondary School Activities Comm'n v. Cuomo" on Justia Law

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Appellants, two police officers, arrested Plaintiff, a student, at a school basketball game. The district court denied summary judgment based on qualified immunity, finding a dispute of material fact regarding the events surrounding Plaintiff's arrest. The officers filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the district court’s decision.The Fifth Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The issues raised by Plaintiff create factual disputes that meet the required threshold to overcome Appellant's qualified immunity defense at this stage. View "Byrd v. Cornelius" on Justia Law

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In September 2022, the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission sent letters to Fischer, who is running for the Kentucky Supreme Court, and Winter, who is running for the Court of Appeals, stating that unidentified individuals had filed complaints, alleging they had “engaged in political or campaign activity inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary," including references to the Republican Party and “pledges, promises or commitments in connection with cases, controversies, or issues likely to come before the Court—specifically the issue of abortion.” The candidates requested additional information, identifying statements that might have prompted the complaints and explaining why the First Amendment protected the statements. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief, raising facial and as-applied challenges to Kentucky's Judicial Conduct Rules. They sought an emergency injunction pending appeal, justifying their request based on “the passage of 12 days without a ruling in the middle of an election cycle,” and the “specter of … self-censorship.”That day, the district court denied the request for a preliminary injunction on standing grounds. The Sixth Circuit granted a preliminary injunction, protecting specific campaign statements. The candidates have standing and have demonstrated a likely constitutional violation. There is a credible threat of enforcement of the Rules. The candidates have guessed which of their statements might have violated the rules; the First Amendment protects each. “When a judicial commission sends vague and threatening letters to candidates on the eve of election, it puts the candidates to a choice between self-censorship and uncertain sanctions.” View "Fischer v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs K.M., H.R., and M.L. sued the Grossmont Union High School District (the District) for negligence based on alleged sexual abuse by their high school drama teacher, James Chatham. They also asserted sexual harassment claims under California Civil Code section 51.9, to which the District successfully demurred. The District made Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offers, which Plaintiffs did not accept. The case proceeded to a jury trial, where the trial court excluded certain evidence and mistakenly included Plaintiffs in an oral jury instruction regarding apportionment of fault. Plaintiffs prevailed, and the jury assigned 60 percent of fault to Chatham, and 40 percent to the District, with resulting damage awards lower than the section 998 offers. The parties moved to tax each other’s costs. The trial court ruled the offers were invalid, granted Plaintiffs’ motion, and denied the District’s motion in pertinent part. Both parties appealed. The California Legislature later enacted Assembly Bill No. 218 which amended Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1, to reduce procedural barriers for childhood sexual abuse claims, and to allow treble damages for a claim involving a prior cover- up of abuse. Plaintiffs sought a new trial, contending they were entitled to pursue treble damages, and that the trial court erred by sustaining the demurrers to their sexual harassment claims, excluding certain evidence, and giving the erroneous oral jury instruction. The District argued the trial court wrongly determined its Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offers were invalid. The Court of Appeal concluded the treble damages provision in Code of Civil Procedure section 340.1 was neither retroactive, nor applicable to public school districts. The Court further concluded Plaintiffs did not establish they could pursue sexual harassment claims against the District under Civil Code section 51.9. The parties do not establish reversible error on the other asserted grounds, either. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment and postjudgment orders. View "K.M. v. Grossmont Union High School Dist." on Justia Law

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The City of Helena ("Helena") appealed the issuance of a preliminary injunction by the Shelby Circuit Court in favor of the Pelham Board of Education ("the Board") and its officers and/or members, in their official capacities (collectively, "the Board defendants"). In June 2021, the Board purchased approximately 52 acres of undeveloped land located within the corporate limits of Helena. The land has not been annexed by the City of Pelham or the Board. Helena collects property taxes on the land, and the land was zoned for single-family residential use under a Helena zoning ordinance. After purchasing the land, the Board began clearing the land for the purpose of constructing one or more athletic fields and a parking lot as part of the Pelham High School campus. Pelham High School was located adjacent to the land but lied within the corporate limits of the City of Pelham. The athletic-field project was originally scheduled to be completed on or before January 17, 2022, but it was delayed by Helena's attempts to enforce its zoning ordinance, which was an issue in this case. Helena asserted in its complaint, among other things, that the Board has no statutory authority to construct the athletic-field project within the corporate limits of Helena. The Board defendants counterclaimed, seeking sought declaratory and injunctive relief based on their position that the athletic-field project served a governmental purpose and, therefore, was not subject to Helena's zoning ordinance. Finding that the trial court did not follow the mandatory requirements of Rule 65(d)(2), the preliminary injunction was dissolved and the order issuing the injunction was, therefore, reversed and the case remanded. View "City of Helena v. Pelham Board of Education, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court affirming the decision of the Sibley-Ocheyedan Community School District to terminate Plaintiff's teaching contract, holding that the school district violated the law when it terminated Plaintiff's contract.Administrators at the school district required Plaintiff, a high school teacher, to participate in an "intensive assistance program" described in Iowa Code chapter 284. The school district's policy implementing chapter 284 required teachers to participate in the program at minimum six months and at most twelve months. The school district, however, fired Plaintiff before she'd been given six months to carry out her responsibilities in the program. The district court affirmed the school board's decision, but the court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the school district unlawfully terminated Plaintiff's contract before giving her the requisite period to participate in the intensive assistance program. View "Braaksma v. Bd. of Directors of Sibley-Ocheyedan Community School District" on Justia Law

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The School District includes four high schools. Groves, who is white, started at the District in 1991 as a teacher. In 2007 he became the Adams High School athletic director. In 2017 Groves applied to serve as Corporation Director of Athletics, a new, District-wide position. Superintendent Spells interviewed four applicants and recommended Gavin, who is Black, explaining that Gavin inspired confidence in his ability to repair the District’s relationship with the Indiana High School Athletic Association; Groves interviewed poorly and seemed to boast of firing 24 coaches during his tenure. Noncompliance with Association regulations occurred under Groves’s watch at Adams.Groves sued under Title VII, noting that Spells is also Black. The District later eliminated the Corporation Director of Athletics position and created a hybrid Dean of Students/Athletics position at each of the four high schools. Groves, Gavin, and seven other candidates applied for the four new positions. The Riley High School position went to Gavin. Groves added a claim of retaliation based on the elimination of his position. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary rejection of his claims. Groves was not substantially more qualified than Gavin. Both met the criteria that the District required for the position. The court rejected a claim of pretext. Although Gavin’s criminal background came to light after the challenged hiring decisions, the District interpreted its background check policy as applying only to external hires, not existing employees moving to new positions. View "Groves v. South Bend Community School Corp." on Justia Law

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The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission) and the Committee of Credentials of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Committee) appealed a judgment and peremptory writ of prohibition directing them to discontinue certain investigative proceedings against present and former public school administrators Kathy Little, Simone Kovats, and Debra Sather (together, the administrators). The Committee commenced an initial review of the administrators’ fitness to continue as credential holders in 2019. Nonparty John Villani was a special education teacher employed by the District between 2011 and 2014. Villani sued the District in 2016 alleging the District unlawfully retaliated against him after he reported that a teacher-aide, David Yoder, was “grooming” and paying inappropriate attention to some of the minor students in his care. Yoder was subsequently charged and convicted of several felony sex offenses against minors, including an offense against one of the aforementioned students. As relevant here, Villani’s lawsuit also alleged the administrators ignored his concerns about Yoder. The Commission learned about Villani’s lawsuit from a news article; the Commission thereafter launched its investigation. The administrators objected to the manner in which the Commission had obtained documents and information from Villani and argued the Committee had not established jurisdiction to review their credentials. The administrators demanded the Commission cease the investigation and the Committee drop the scheduled meetings. The Commission and Committee argued the trial court erred in ruling the administrators were excused from exhausting administrative remedies and misinterpreted Education Code section 44242.5, which defined the scope of the Committee’s jurisdiction. Finding no error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment and writ. View "Little v. Com. on Teacher Credentialing" on Justia Law

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Jones County School District (JCSD) alleged Covington County School District (CCSD), the custodial district, failed to share sixteenth-section income as required by statute for a period of eighteen years or more. JCSD requested, among other things, an accounting going back to 1997. The chancellor ultimately ordered what JCSD called a “partial” accounting, lacking some requested details and going back only to 2003, when the two districts began exchanging lists of educable students as required by statute. JCSD then petitioned the Mississippi Supreme Court for permission to file an interlocutory appeal, which the Court granted. JCSD contended on appeal that certain statutes prescribing time periods relating to the distribution of sixteenth-section incomes were statutes of limitation, which the Mississippi Constitution prohibited from being enforced against political subdivisions of the State. This appeal also presented questions of statutory interpretation regarding how income from shared townships is to be managed. The Supreme Court concluded that the statute conditioning the annual payment of sixteenth-section funds on the exchanging of lists of educable children was a constitutional exercise of the Legislature’s authority to decide the method and procedure for allocating funds. The statute giving the noncustodial district one year to contest the sufficiency of the payments (in those years in which lists of educable students were exchanged) was likewise not a statute of limitations. The Court recognized there might still be a need for an accounting, as the custodial district is required to pay a pro-rata share of the interest derived from the principal fund associated with each of the sixteenth-section lands to the noncustodial district on an annual basis. "Maintenance of the principal fund is potentially subject to an action in equity for an accounting." The Court vacated the chancery court's accounting order and remanded for that court to consider a new claim for accounting, if JCSD pursues one, in light of the Supreme Court's holding here. View "Jones County School District v. Covington County School District, et al." on Justia Law