Justia Education Law Opinion Summaries

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Patrick G. was a seventeen-year-old boy with autism who qualified for special educational services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) and who, since 2013, has been attending the Alpine Autism Center for school. In 2016, Harrison School District No. 2 (the “School District” or the “District”) proposed transferring Patrick from Alpine to a special program at Mountain Vista Community School allegedly tailored to Patrick’s needs. Plaintiffs-Appellants Patrick’s parents challenged this decision on Patrick’s behalf, first in administrative proceedings and then in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, alleging that the School District committed a host of violations in crafting an “individualized educational plan” (“IEP”) for Patrick in 2015 and 2016. After several years of litigation, the district court determined that the expiration of Patrick’s 2016 IEP rendered the Parents’ lawsuit moot. Significantly, the district court held several related issues - including the Parents’ request for attorney’s fees from the administrative proceedings, their argument that the School District had incorrectly reimbursed the Parents’ insurance provider instead of the Parents themselves, and their motion for a “stay put” injunction to keep Patrick in his current educational placement during the proceedings - were also moot. The Parents contended on appeal to the Tenth Circuit that the district court erred by failing to find their substantive IDEA claims fell into the “capable of repetition, yet evading review” exception to mootness. And, even if their substantive IDEA claims did not fall within this exception, they argued their requests for attorney’s fees, reimbursement, and a “stay put” injunction continued to present live claims. To the latter, the Tenth Circuit agreed and remanded to the district court to rule on the merits of these claims in the first instance. To all other issues, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Patrick G., et al. v. Harrison School District No. 2" on Justia Law

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In this COVID-19 pandemic-related case, the Seventh Circuit vacated in part the judgment of the district court granting Loyola University of Chicago's motion to dismiss this complaint brought by Plaintiffs, three undergraduate students, for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, holding that Plaintiffs pled enough to withstand dismissal for failure to state a claim and that Plaintiffs were entitled to leave to amend to save their alternative claim for unjust enrichment.As a result of the pandemic, Loyola suspended all in-person instruction during the Spring 2020 semester, curtailed access to campus facilities, and moved all instruction online. Plaintiffs brought a putative class action lawsuit against Loyola, arguing that the decision to shut down Loyola's campus deprived them of promised services, such as in-person instruction and access to on-campus facilities, in exchange for tuition and fees. The district court granted Loyola's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, holding (1) Plaintiffs sufficiently pled a claim for breach of an implied contract under Illinois law; and (2) Plaintiffs adequately pled an unjust enrichment claim in the alternative. View "Gociman v. Loyola University of Chicago" on Justia Law

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The University of Kentucky investigated two dentistry professors for entering false data about whether they, or their students, had performed services for patients at a university clinic and who should be paid for those services. The professors had earned more for treating patients than they earned in salary; they had circumvented the University’s system for determining who performed services. While the investigation proceeded, the professors were barred from seeing patients in the clinic but performed their other duties. After the investigation, both professors left the University. The professors sued, alleging violations of their due process rights and retaliation in violation of the First Amendment.The Sixth Circuit reversed the denial of summary judgment to the administrators on the due process claims involving the suspension of their clinical duties and one claim of constructive discharge. Because the administrators did not violate clearly established law, qualified immunity protects them. Even if the professors had a property interest in their clinical duties, the administrators did not violate any clearly established due process right when they suspended them from working in the clinic and allowed them to continue working in other roles. The court affirmed summary judgment for the administrators on a due process claim involving the early end to one professor’s appointment and on the professors’ First Amendment retaliation claims. View "Cunningham v. Blackwell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court requiring disclosure of Plaintiffs' identities to opposing attorneys while allowing Plaintiffs to keep their names sealed and confidential as to the public and a school district, holding that this Court declines to adopt new standards modeled after federal law.Plaintiffs, a group of parents, sued a school district alleging that a policy adopted by the school district entitled "Guidance & Policies to Support Transgender, Non-binary & Gender Expansive Students" violated their constitutional rights to parent their children and to exercise their religious beliefs. Plaintiffs then moved to proceed using pseudonyms. The circuit court granted in part Plaintiffs' motion to proceed anonymously. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court properly exercised its discretion in allowing Plaintiffs to proceed pseudonymously but not preventing opposing attorneys from knowing Plaintiffs' identity. View "Doe v. Madison Metro School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Cl.G., on behalf of his minor son, C.G., appealed a district court’s dismissal of his case against Defendants-Appellees Cherry Creek School District (District or CCSD) and various employees for alleged constitutional violations stemming from C.G.’s suspension and expulsion from Cherry Creek High School (CCHS). In 2019, C.G. was off campus at a thrift store with three friends. He took a picture of his friends wearing wigs and hats, including “one hat that resembled a foreign military hat from the World War II period.” C.G. posted that picture on Snapchat and captioned it, “Me and the boys bout [sic] to exterminate the Jews.” C.G.’s post (the photo and caption) was part of a private “story,” visible only to Snapchat users connected with C.G. on that platform. Posts on a user’s Snapchat story are automatically deleted after 24 hours, but C.G. removed this post after a few hours. He then posted on his Snapchat story, “I’m sorry for that picture it was ment [sic] to be a joke.” One of C.G.’s Snapchat “friend[s]” took a photograph of the post before C.G. deleted it and showed it to her father. The father called the police, who visited C.G.’s house and found no threat. Referencing prior anti-Semitic activity and indicating that the post caused concern for many in the Jewish community, a CCHS parent emailed the school and community leaders about the post, leading to C.G.'s expulsion. Plaintiff filed suit claiming violations of C.G.'s constitutional rights. Defendants moved to dismiss, which was ultimately granted. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the First Amendment limited school authority to regulate off-campus student speech, particularly speech unconnected with a school activity and not directed at the school or its specific members. Defendants maintained that C.G. was lawfully disciplined for what amounts to off-campus hate speech. According to Defendants, although originating off campus, C.G.’s speech still spread to the school community, disrupted the school’s learning environment, and interfered with the rights of other students to be free from harassment and receive an education. The Tenth Circuit determined Plaintiff properly pled that Defendants violated C.G.’s First Amendment rights by disciplining him for his post; the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s first claim was reversed in part. The Court affirmed dismissal of Plaintiff’s further facial challenges to CCSD’s policies. Questions of qualified and absolute immunity and Plaintiff’s conspiracy claim were remanded for further consideration. View "C1.G v. Siegfried, et al." on Justia Law

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In February 2016, C.M. was six years old and in first grade, when he exhibited behavioral problems. The school district determined that he was ineligible for special education and related services because he was not disabled and did not need them. The child’s parents disagreed and sought redress under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In their administrative grievance, they asserted that the school district violated its statutory obligation to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities, thereby denying their child his statutory right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The parents’ claims did not succeed at the administrative level or in the district court. In April 2017, C.M. was diagnosed with autism. The school developed an individualized education program, which his parents agreed to in August 2017, shortly before their son entered third grade. In July 2019, C.M. enrolled in a private school.The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the school district; the district did not violate its “child find” obligations nor deprive C.M. of a FAPE before April 2017. The parents have not exhausted administrative remedies on their claim for tuition reimbursement. View "J. M. v. Summit City Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Lawyers brought claims against schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400. After the claims failed, the schools sought their attorney’s fees from the lawyers under the IDEA’s fee-shifting provision. The School Districts alleged that, during the administrative process, the attorneys presented sloppy pleadings, asserted factually inaccurate or legally irrelevant allegations, and needlessly prolonged the proceedings. The lawyers asked their insurer, Wesco, to pay the fees. Wesco refused on the ground that the requested attorney’s fees fell within the insurance policy’s exclusion for “sanctions.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Wesco. The IDEA makes attorney misconduct a prerequisite to a fee award against a party’s lawyer, so the policy exclusion applied. The court noted that the legal community routinely describes an attorney’s fees award as a “sanction” when a court grants it because of abusive litigation tactics. View "Wesco Insurance Co. v. Roderick Linton Belfance, LLP" on Justia Law

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In September 2016, Christopher Strickland, Jr., a sophomore at Northwest Rankin High School, was at Choctaw Trails in Clinton, Mississippi, preparing to run a cross- country meet. Before the race, a wasp stung Christopher on the top of his head. According to Christopher, a lump began to form and his head felt tight, like it was swelling. Christopher told one of his coaches. According to affidavits submitted by the Rankin County School District (RCSD), two coaches and a registered nurse, who was there to watch her son race, examined Christopher’s head and found no evidence of a sting or adverse reaction. And Christopher assured them he was fine and wanted to run the race. But Christopher recalled only one coach examining him. And this coach told him to “man up” and run the race. Christopher ran the race. According to one of his coaches, she checked in on him at the mile marker. He responded that he was “okay, just hot.” According to Christopher, after the mile marker he began to feel dizzy. Then he fell, hitting his head. The same nurse attended to him. So did her husband, who was a neurologist. Christopher appeared to recover and rejoined his team after the race. But he later went to a doctor, who discovered injuries to his brain and spine. In January 2017, Christopher’s father, Christopher Strickland, Sr. (Strickland), sued RCSD on Christopher’s behalf. He alleged various breaches of duties in how RCSD employees acted both (1) after the wasp sting but before the race and (2) after Christopher’s fall. Specifically, Strickland alleged that, after the fall, RCSD employees failed to follow the district’s concussion protocol. The Mississippi Supreme Court surmised "much legal analysis has been aimed at whether the actions of two cross-country coaches were discretionary policy decisions entitled to immunity from suit under Mississippi Code Section 11-46-9(1)(d) (Rev. 2019)." But on certiorari review, the Court found this question to be moot: the alleged actions of the coaches do not establish any triable claim for negligence. For that reason, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the Rankin County School District. View "Strickland v. Rankin County School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff C. Achay was a student on a high school track team, which usually practiced after school until 5:30 p.m. One day practice ended early, so Achay and her friend walked to Starbucks and returned about 45 minutes later. On the way back to the open campus, they encountered a stranger who Achay thought was “suspicious.” Someone identified him as A. Meer, a former student who was “kind of weird.” Achay retrieved her schoolbooks from the girls’ locker room, which was to be locked at 6:00 p.m. While Achay was walking from the girls’ locker room to the school parking lot she was stabbed by Meer, suffering serious injuries. Achay sued defendant Huntington Beach Union High School District (the District) for negligence. The District moved for summary judgment on the grounds of duty and causation. The trial court granted the motion, finding the District owed Achay no duty of care because at the time of the stabbing, she “was no longer on campus during school hours during a school-related activity.” To this the Court of Appeal disagreed: at the time of the stabbing, Achay was on campus to retrieve her books from an open locker room after her track practice and another sports team was still practicing nearby. “Achay’s brief departure from school is a red herring.” Alternatively, the trial court stated it “cannot assume that more security would have prevented the incident from occurring.” But the Court found that was “plainly a triable issue of material fact: whether the District used reasonable security measures to protect Achay from an arguably preventable injury at the hands of Meer.” Thus, the Court reversed the trial court’s order, which granted the District’s motion for summary judgment. View "Achay v. Huntington Beach Union High School Dist." on Justia Law

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In this case arising from House Bill 102 (HB 102), the Supreme Court held that the Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education (Board) has the sole authority under the Montana Constitution to set policy regarding the possession of firearms on the Montana University System property.In 2021, the legislature enacted HB 102, which generally revised gun laws with respect to open and concealed carry of firearms. HB 102 also nullified a Board policy that limited the use of and access to firearms on campuses of the Montana University System (MUS). The district court concluded that HB 102 was unconstitutional as applied to the Board because it violated the Board's constitutional authority to regulate MUS campuses. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) campus safety and security is an integral responsibility of the Board's constitutional authority; (2) the regulation of firearms on MUS campuses falls squarely within this authority; and (3) as applied to the Board, certain sections of HB 102 unconstitutionally infringe upon the Board's constitutionally-derived authority. View "Board of Regents of Higher Education v. State" on Justia Law