Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court of California reviewed a case involving the University of California, Berkeley's (UC Berkeley) plan to build a housing project on a site called People's Park. The plaintiffs, Make UC a Good Neighbor and People’s Park Historic District Advocacy Group, challenged the certification of an environmental impact report (EIR) for the project, arguing that it failed to consider the environmental impacts of "student-generated noise" and did not adequately consider alternatives to the People’s Park location. The Court of Appeal agreed with the plaintiffs.The Supreme Court of California granted review of the Court of Appeal’s decision. During the review, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill No. 1307, which added sections to the Public Resources Code stating that noise generated by project occupants and their guests is not a significant environmental effect for residential projects, and that public higher education institutions are not required to consider alternatives to the location of a proposed residential or mixed-use housing project if certain requirements are met. The plaintiffs conceded that this new law applied to the case and made clear that the EIR was not required to examine "social noise" or potential alternative locations to People’s Park.The Supreme Court of California concluded that none of the plaintiffs' claims had merit in light of the new law. The court held that the new law applied to both the People’s Park housing project and the development plan, and the EIR was not inadequate for having failed to study the potential noisiness of future students at UC Berkeley in connection with this project. The court declined to consider the plaintiffs' alternative locations argument with respect to potential future housing projects. The court reversed the Court of Appeal’s judgment. View "Make UC a Good Neighbor v. The Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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The case involves Little Scholars of Arkansas, AP Consolidated Theatres II L.P., CSRC Charter LISA, LLC, and KLS Leasing LLC (collectively, appellants) who appealed against Pulaski County, Arkansas, and its officials (collectively, appellees). The appellants operate charter schools and lease properties for their schools. The appellees assessed real-property taxes against the schools, which the appellants contested, arguing that the properties used for school purposes are exempt from taxes under the Arkansas Constitution. The appellants also sought a declaration that Ark. Code Ann. § 6-21-118, which they claimed the appellees relied on for the tax assessment, is void under the constitution.The case was initially brought before the Pulaski County Circuit Court. The appellees moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the county courts have exclusive jurisdiction over county tax matters. The circuit court agreed with the appellees, dismissing the case on the grounds that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the appellants' claims.The case was then brought before the Supreme Court of Arkansas. The appellants argued that the circuit court did have subject-matter jurisdiction over their illegal-exaction claims. They also argued that their request for a declaration that Ark. Code Ann. § 6-21-118 is void does not fall within the county court’s jurisdiction. The Supreme Court disagreed with the appellants, affirming the circuit court's decision. The Supreme Court held that the appellants' claim was not an illegal-exaction claim but an assessment dispute, which falls within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the county court. The Supreme Court also held that the circuit court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the appellants' request for declaratory judgment. View "LITTLE SCHOLARS OF ARKANSAS FOUNDATION v. PULASKI COUNTY, ARKANSAS" on Justia Law

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The case involves a non-verbal student, Alexandre Le Pape, and his family who repeatedly requested that the Lower Merion School District change his educational program to include a new communication protocol known as "Spelling to Communicate" (S2C). The school district denied these requests, leading to Alexandre's withdrawal from public education. The family filed an administrative special education due process complaint against the school district, alleging that the district failed to protect Alexandre's rights and denied him a Free Accessible Public Education (FAPE) under various laws. An administrative hearing officer ruled against the family on all claims, leading them to file a suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.The District Court granted the school district's motions for summary judgment on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim and judgment on the administrative record for the denial-of-FAPE claims. The Le Papes appealed the court's decision, arguing that the court granted judgment without applying the summary judgment standard to which they were entitled under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed and remanded the case. The court held that the District Court erred in granting summary judgment for the school district on the Le Papes' ADA discrimination claim and judgment on the administrative record for their discrimination claims under both the ADA and Section 504. The court clarified that a denial-of-FAPE claim under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) can be resolved through an administrative appeal, but ADA and Section 504 discrimination claims seeking compensatory damages, even if on the same facts, should be resolved through summary judgment and, possibly, trial. View "Le Pape v. Lower Merion School District" on Justia Law

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A student, Brooklyn, and her parent, Gabrielle M., filed a complaint against the Upper Darby School District, alleging that the district failed to provide Brooklyn with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The family claimed that the district had not fulfilled its "Child Find" obligation to identify Brooklyn as eligible for services under Section 504 until fourth grade, despite requests for a comprehensive evaluation as early as kindergarten. The family also argued that the district's 504 plan for Brooklyn was inadequate.The case was first heard by a special education hearing officer, who ruled that the district had denied Brooklyn a FAPE by providing an inadequate 504 plan, but had not violated its Child Find obligation. The family then filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which affirmed the hearing officer's decision and granted judgment on the administrative record to the School District.The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit disagreed with the District Court's decision, stating that the court had erred in not separately analyzing the Child Find claim under Section 504, despite the broader definition of disability under Section 504 compared to the IDEA. The Court of Appeals vacated the District Court's decision and remanded the case for further analysis of the Child Find claim under Section 504. View "B. M. v. Upper Darby School District" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over the funding of Delaware's public schools. The plaintiffs, non-profit organizations with an interest in Delaware's schools, filed a lawsuit in 2018, alleging that the state's public schools were not providing an adequate education for students from low-income households, students with disabilities, and students whose first language is not English. They argued that one of the problems was a broken system for funding the schools, which relied on property taxes. The plaintiffs contended that the three counties in Delaware were using decades-old property valuations, which violated state law and the state constitution.The case was initially heard in the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware. During discovery, the plaintiffs served requests for admission to the counties, asking them to admit that their decades-old assessments resulted in a lack of uniformity in property taxes and violated state law. The counties denied these requests. At trial, the court found in favor of the plaintiffs, ruling that the counties' assessments violated state law and the state constitution. The court also found that the plaintiffs had proved the facts that were the subject of the requests for admission that the counties had denied.The plaintiffs then requested an award of expenses under Court of Chancery Rule 37(c), which allows the court to order a party to pay the expenses that another party incurred in proving a fact that should have been admitted. The court granted the plaintiffs' request, awarding them expenses of $337,224, which included attorneys’ fees and out-of-pocket costs. Each county was ordered to pay a prorated share of $112,408. View "In re Delaware Public Schools Litigation" on Justia Law

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The case involves John R. Tibbetts, a teacher, and his employer, the Worth County School District. The District offered Tibbetts a contract for the upcoming school year, but Tibbetts did not return the signed contract within the stipulated time. The District then informed Tibbetts that his employment would end when his current contract expired. Tibbetts sued the District for breach of contract, arguing that the offered contract did not comply with Georgia's statutory requirements for teacher contracts because it was missing terms and contained blanks. Therefore, he contended, his employment contract for the prior school year was renewed by operation of law.The trial court granted the District's motion for summary judgment, holding that there was no existing written contract between the parties that operated to waive sovereign immunity under the ex contractu clause of the Constitution of the State of Georgia. The trial court found that the District offered Tibbetts a contract that complied with the statutory requirements, but that Tibbetts did not timely accept that offer.The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision. It determined that the contract the District offered Tibbetts for the upcoming school year failed to comply with the requirements of the statute; therefore, Tibbetts’s contract for the previous school year was renewed by operation of law and constituted a contract in writing. The Court of Appeals reasoned that Tibbetts’s claim was one for breach of a written contract, and sovereign immunity was waived pursuant to the ex contractu clause.The Supreme Court of Georgia reversed the Court of Appeals' decision. It held that the Court of Appeals erred in reversing the grant of summary judgment in favor of the District because the employment contract the District offered Tibbetts for the upcoming school year satisfied the requirements of the statute. Because Tibbetts failed to timely accept this offer, no written contract exists to support Tibbetts’s claim for breach of a written contract. Absent such a claim, there is no waiver of sovereign immunity pursuant to the ex contractu clause. View "WORTH COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT v. TIBBETTS" on Justia Law

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The case involves two students, Chad Ayach and Joseph Nofal, who were expelled from the University of California Riverside (UC Riverside) following an administrative hearing. The university's Student Conduct and Academic Integrity Programs office (SCAIP) initiated an investigation into the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity (PGD) after receiving a report expressing concern for the health of a member of the fraternity's pledge class. During the investigation, it was revealed that the fraternity engaged in activities that appeared to meet UC Riverside's definitions of hazing. Ayach and Nofal, who held leadership roles in the fraternity, were subsequently expelled.The Superior Court of Los Angeles County reviewed the case after Ayach and Nofal filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging their expulsions. They argued that the university's administrative hearings did not afford them due process because the charging documents and evidence presented used pseudonyms to identify witnesses, and they were purportedly denied the opportunity to confront or cross-examine these witnesses at the hearing. The court denied the petition, and Ayach and Nofal appealed.The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division One, affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court concluded that the administrative proceedings afforded Ayach and Nofal the process they were due, given the nature of the charges and their response. The court found that the hearings before the committee provided Ayach and Nofal with a full opportunity to present their defenses, which is what due process requires. The court also noted that the credibility of the witnesses was not central to the disciplinary decision, and therefore, the lack of cross-examination, lack of witness confrontation, and the use of pseudonyms in the description of witness statements did not prejudice Ayach's and Nofal's ability to present a meaningful defense. View "Ayach v. The Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a lawsuit filed by an adult, John Doe D.Y., alleging childhood sexual assault while in elementary school. The plaintiff used fictitious names for all defendants and did not serve any at the time of filing, as required by section 340.1 of the Code of Civil Procedure. The case was assigned to Judge Katherine A. Bacal. In October 2023, the superior court allowed the plaintiff to serve and name Doe defendants under section 340.1. In November 2023, the plaintiff named Doe 1 as Defendant and Petitioner San Diego Unified School District. The District was served with the complaint in December 2023.The District made its first appearance in January 2024, seeking an automatic extension of time to demur and filed a peremptory challenge under section 170.6 against the judge. The superior court denied the challenge as "untimely" without further explanation. The District then filed a petition for a writ of mandate, arguing that it had timely filed the challenge within 15 days of its first appearance.The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District Division One, State of California, concluded that the superior court's review of the certificates under section 340.1 did not constitute a "determination of contested fact issues relating to the merits" under section 170.6(a)(2), and thus did not preclude a subsequent peremptory challenge. The court found that the superior court had erred in ruling the District's peremptory challenge as untimely. The court issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing the superior court to vacate its order denying the District's peremptory challenge, and to enter an order granting the challenge and reassigning the case to a different judge. View "San Diego Unified School Dist. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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A mother sued a school district for negligence under the Political Subdivisions Tort Claims Act (PSTCA), alleging that her son was injured during a pole-vaulting practice at school when he fell onto an unpadded section of the pole-vaulting box collar area. The district court dismissed the case, concluding that the claim was barred by the PSTCA’s “recreational activity” exemption. The mother appealed.Previously, the district court had ruled that the school district was immune from the lawsuit because the student's pole-vaulting activity fell under the PSTCA's "recreational activity" exemption. The court applied a three-part test from a previous case, determining that pole-vaulting fit the definition of a recreational activity, the injuries arose from an inherent risk of the activity, and no fee was charged for participation.On appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision. The Supreme Court found that while pole-vaulting could be considered a recreational activity, it was premature to conclude that the student's injuries necessarily resulted from an inherent risk of that activity. The court noted that the complaint alleged the injuries resulted from the school's negligence in failing to properly pad the pole-vaulting area, supervise the student, and have proper safety protocols in place. The court concluded that a factual record was necessary to resolve the issues raised by the complaint and the assertion of sovereign immunity by the school district. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "MacFarlane v. Sarpy Cty. Sch. Dist. 77-0037" on Justia Law

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Michele Rawlins, a former school principal and member of the Teachers' Retirement System of the City of New York (TRS), was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a series of incidents involving a disgruntled food-service worker. The worker's behavior left Rawlins feeling threatened and harassed, leading to her inability to perform her job responsibilities. The final incident occurred in April 2019, when the worker, who had been transferred to another location, entered the school and demanded to speak with Rawlins, insisting she had his "belt and wallet." Rawlins interpreted the worker's remarks as having "sexual overtones" and felt she was being stalked. She left the school building and never returned to work following the incident.Rawlins applied for accidental disability retirement benefits (ADR) from the TRS, but her application was denied. The TRS Medical Board determined that she did not sustain an accident in the work setting and that "purposeful conduct by coworkers giving rise to a disabling injury is not an accident within the meaning of the pension statute." Rawlins reapplied for ADR, but the Board maintained its previous determination. Rawlins then commenced a CPLR article 78 proceeding to annul the Board's determination. The Supreme Court denied the petition and dismissed the proceeding, stating that the Board's determination had a rational basis. The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court's decision, and Rawlins was granted leave to appeal.The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The court held that substantial evidence supported the Board's determination that Rawlins' injury was not caused by an "accident" within the meaning of the statutory scheme. The court declined to adopt a rule that "purposeful conduct by coworkers" can never be the basis for an award of ADR. Instead, the court stated that when a member's disability is alleged to have resulted from the intentional acts of any third party, the relevant question continues to be whether the injury-causing event was sudden, unexpected, and outside the risks inherent in the work performed. View "Matter of Rawlins v Teachers' Retirement Sys. of the City of N.Y." on Justia Law