Thursday, September 29, 2016
At Education Week's School Law Blog, Mark Walsh covers the U.S. Supreme Court's cert grant today in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 (No. 15-827), in which the Court may resolve a circuit split on the issue of what level of educational benefit must a child receive under his or her individualized education program, or IEP, for a school district to have provided a free appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? Walsh's article is below:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, ruled last year in the case of a Colorado child with autism that because the child's public school IEP had provided him with "some educational benefit," the Douglas County district had provided a "free, appropriate public education" under the IDEA. The 10th Circuit court thus rejected a private school reimbursement for the parents of the boy identified as Endrew F. after the parents had pulled him from public school amid the dispute over his 5th grade IEP.
In an August 2015 decision, the 10th Circuit court panel acknowledged that several other federal courts of appeals have adopted a higher standard that requires an IEP to result in a "meaningful educational benefit." But the 10th Circuit, agreeing with a lower court in Endrew F.'s case, said that a key 1982 Supreme Court precedent on special education, Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, merely requires an IEP to provide "some educational benefit."
"The courts of appeals are in disarray over the level of educational benefit that school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with a free appropriate public education under the IDEA," says the appeal filed on behalf of Endrew F. and his parents by his Denver lawyers and the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford Law School. "This court should use this case—which cleanly presents the legal issue on a well-developed set of facts—to resolve the conflict over this important question."
In May, the Supreme Court invited the U.S. solicitor general to file a brief expressing the views of the Obama administration. On Aug. 18, Acting Solicitor General Ian H. Gershengorn filed a brief that urged the justices to take up the appeal.
"This court should grant certiorari and overturn the 10th Circuit's erroneous holding that states must provide children with disabilities educational benefits that are 'merely ... more than de minimis' in order to comply with the IDEA," the brief states. "The 10th Circuit's approach is not consistent with the text, structure, or purpose of the IDEA; it conflicts with important aspects of this court's decision in ... Rowley, and it has the effect of depriving children with disabilities of the benefits Congress has granted them by law."
Lawyers for the Douglas County district argued in briefs, including one filed in response to the solicitor general's recommendation to grant review, that the asserted split among the federal appeals courts is "shallow" and that only the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia, "has consistently applied a purportedly more demanding 'meaningful benefit' standard."
"The government contends that the IDEA demands something 'more robust'" than the "some benefit" standard, says the school district brief. "The question is whether a state has satisfied its substantive obligations if the IEP it offers provides a child more than a de minimis educational benefit. Under Rowley the answer is yes."
Despite the district's arguments, the Supreme Court on Sept. 29 granted review, one of eight cases the justices added to their docket just before the formal start of their new term on Oct. 3.
The Endrew F. case is likely to be argued sometime early next year.
Monday, September 26, 2016
Lawrence Hurly reported for Reuters yesterday that the U.S. Supreme Court may be reluctant to take up Gloucester Co. Sch. Bd. v. G.G., the case of 17-year-old transgender student Gavin Grimm, who was barred by his school from using the the boys’ restroom at school, despite him having a state ID that identifies him as male. This upcoming school year, Grimm will have to use a separate single-stall restroom. On August 3, the Supreme Court granted an emergency stay recalling the mandate of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that would have allowed Grimm to use a bathroom congruent with his gender identity. The stay reinstated the the Eastern District of Virginia's June 2016 preliminary injunction order denying Grimm's request to use the boys’ restroom. Hurly predicts that the short-handed Supreme Court will be cautious about granting certiorari, particularly because the decision could end in a 4-4 deadlock and because the Fourth Circuit's ruling was the first decision of its kind in the federal circuits. Hurly's article is here.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
First Circuit Holds That Voting District Does Not Have To Be Redrawn In "Prison Gerrymandering" Case
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled Tuesday that a city did not have to redraw its district lines for school committee and city council seats when one ward of the city included prisoners in a state correctional institution, many of whom are barred from voting. In overturning a federal district court ruling earlier this year holding that Cranston, R.I.'s inclusion of a prison population in a voting district violated the Equal Protection Clause, the First Circuit instead relied on the Supreme Court's decision in Evenwel v. Abbott (2016), which held that the "one person, one vote" principle allows a state to design its legislative districts based on total population. The First Circuit case arose when plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union sued the City of Cranston when it decided to count the more than three thousand inmates at the state Adult Correctional Institution in Cranston's Ward 6. The inmates accounted for a quarter of Ward 6’s total population even though under state law, the prisoners were actually residents of their home counties for most other legal purposes, including voting, for those serving a non-felony sentence. The plaintiffs contended that including the prison population inflated Ward 6 constituents' voting power to the level as the other wards even though Ward 6 had fewer residents who had a political interest in local elections. The First Circuit rejected those arguments, noting the that the Supreme Court has deferred to state legislative decisions that included non-voters, such as transients or persons denied the vote, as part of districts' population "so long as the apportionment scheme does not involve invidious discrimination." The case is Davidson v. City of Cranston, No. 16-1692 (1st. Cir. Sept. 21, 2016).
Monday, September 12, 2016
Second Circuit Dismisses Student-Plaintiffs' Suit That Claimed Taxpayer Money Was Diverted To Fund Private Religious Schools
A divided Second Circuit held today that student-plaintiffs in the East Ramapo (N.Y.) School District lacked standing to challenge the alleged diversion of public funds to religious institutions in their district. In Montesa, et al. v. Schwartz, et al., taxpayer and student plaintiffs alleged that school board members of the East Ramapo School District had an under the table agreement to allow Orthodox/Hasidic Jewish parents to invoke the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to have their children placed in largely Hasidic schools. The parents did this, the plaintiffs claimed, by simply writing a letter to the school board disagreeing with the placement of their children in the public schools. School board members would then pass a private placement resolution in lieu of an Impartial Hearing under the IDEA and reimburse the parents for the private religious school tuition. One problem with this, the plaintiffs argued, was that the school district would not be entitled to federal or state reimbursement for these students because the settlements occurred before an Impartial Hearing under the IDEA. The plaintiffs alleged that the school board defendants thus diverted funds away from the district's public schools and into Hasidic religious institutions. In today's decision, the Second Circuit held that the student‐plaintiffs lacked standing to assert an Establishment Clause claim because they were only indirectly affected by the conduct alleged to violate the Establishment Clause. The circuit court, which upheld the district court ruling, found that the students were not directly exposed "to the unconstitutional establishment of religion.” A taxpayer suit on similar grounds is proceeding in federal district court. The opinion is here.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Third Circuit Affirms Denial Of Qualified Immunity For Teacher Who Allowed Kindergartner To Be Taken From Class By Unauthorized Adult
The Third Circuit has affirmed a district court’s denial of qualified immunity for a schoolteacher who allowed a kindergartner to leave his class with an adult who failed to identify herself and who later sexually abused the student. In L.R. v. Philadelphia School District, No. 14-4640 (3rd Cir. Sept. 7, 2016), a teacher in the Philadelphia School District allowed a kindergarten student (called “Jane” in the opinion) to leave his classroom with an adult who failed to identify herself. The adult sexually assaulted the child later that day. In the early hours of the next morning, a sanitation worker found the child in a playground after hearing her cries. The child’s parent sued the teacher, who claimed qualified immunity. The Third Circuit acknowledged that teachers are often shielded by the doctrine of qualified immunity, but that this case was different because state action created the danger to the plaintiff. First, the court applied a state-created danger exception to the general rule that states have no duty under the due process clause to protect its citizens from private harm. The court noted that this was not simply a case of the school official’s failure to intervene to prevent an unauthorized person from removing a child from school. It was instead a school official allowing a stranger to remove the child from a safe place—the kindergarten class—to an unsafe one:
The setting here is a typical kindergarten classroom. Children in this setting are closely supervised by their teacher. Their freedom of movement is restricted. Indeed, they are not likely to use the bathroom without permission, much less wander unattended from the classroom. In the classroom, the teacher acts as the gatekeeper for very young children who are unable to make reasoned decisions about when and with whom to leave the classroom. Viewed in this light, Jane was safe in her classroom unless and until her teacher, Littlejohn, permitted her to leave.
The court also found that “the risk of harm in releasing a five-year-old child to an unidentified, unverified adult is “so obvious” as to rise to the level of deliberate indifference,” the appropriate standard when an official is not under intense time pressure to make a decision with limited facts. In this case, the teacher asked the adult for identification and documentation that she was authorized to remove Jane, but nevertheless allowed Jane to be taken without the requested verification. The circuit court then turned to whether Jane’s right to be free from “unjustified intrusions on personal security” was clearly established at the time of the teacher’s actions. The court found that sufficiently analogous cases should have placed school officials on notice that it was unlawful to take a helpless child out of a safe environment and expose her to obvious danger by allowing her to go with an unknown person. The case is here.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
A federal district court in Pennsylvania has ordered the School District of Lancaster, PA, to allow older refugee students to attend their local high school. The plaintiffs are six students, who are between 17-21 and who are refugees from Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burma. They sued the Lancaster district this summer, alleging that the district illegally refused to enroll them at the public McCaskey High School or diverted them to a privately-run alternative school, Phoenix Academy. According to the lawsuit, district employees told the students that they were too old to enroll (not true) or did not have sufficient English proficiency (despite McCaskey having a an international program dedicated to serving transitioning English language learners.) Some of the students' younger siblings were admitted to the district's schools. At Phoenix Academy, the students alleged, they were subject to frequent pat-down searches, restrictions on their dress and activities, and bullying from other students. Moreover, the students alleged that the pace of Phoenix's instruction, which was designed to allow disruptive or older students to earn accelerated credits so that they could graduate faster, was inappropriate for students who had recently arrived in the United States. Phoenix offers no extra curricular programs. While the federal court was taking testimony in the case, an attorney for the Lancaster school district commented that "[i]f [the plaintiffs] don't like the security measures [at Phoenix Academy] then they definitely won't like them at McCaskey, where they have two guards with Tasers and yes, sometimes they have to use them." U.S. District Court Judge Edward G. Smith granted a preliminary injunction ordering the district to allow the students to attend McCaskey, stating that the plaintiffs presented "straightforward legal issues that were ultimately easy to resolve. ... [T]he law is clear: eligible students must be timely enrolled, and efforts to overcome language barriers must be sound and effective." The district is appealing the order.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Recent Decisions On IDEA Claim Exhaustion; AR Desegregation Consent Decree Upheld; and CA Education Quality Suit Again Rejected
Third Circuit Holds that Non-IDEA Claims Are Subject to IDEA Exhaustion Requirement
Plaintiffs must exhaust claims that implicate services within the purview of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, even if those claims are raised under a non-IDEA statute. Because a student’s complaint that a school board discriminated against him under Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act claims raised educational injuries that implicated IDEA services, the claims raised were held subject to the IDEA exhaustion requirement. The case is S.D. v. Haddon Heights Board of Educ., 15-1804 (3rd Cir. Aug. 18, 2016).
California Appellate Court Again Rejects Education Quality Suit
The California Court of Appeal recently refused to reinstate the claims of the Campaign for Quality Education, a case alleging that California's current educational financing system violated the state constitution. In the appellate opinion in April, Campaign for Quality Education v. California, the plaintiffs argued that article IX of the California constitution required the state to adequately fund education and that the state should be compelled to do so under court supervision. The appellate court found that the California Constitution did not require the state to provide a certain quality of education. In the this week's opinion, appellate affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the complaint for failure to state a cognizable claim and again cited its decision to "leave the difficult and policy-laden questions associated with educational adequacy and funding to the legislative branch." The latest opinion is Campaign for Quality Education v. California, No. A134423S (Cal. Ct. App. Aug. 22, 2016).
Eighth Circuit Holds That Arkansas School Districts’ Desegregation Consent Decree Duties Did Not End with Repealed Statute
In W.T. Davis v. Cutter Morning Star School, 15-1919 (8th Cir. Aug. 18, 2016), several individual school districts in Arkansas sued to end a desegregation consent decree, arguing that subsequent state legislation invalidated the decree. The case arose under the following facts: part of a 1991 consent decree to desegregate the Garland County, Arkansas school system adopted the Arkansas’ School Choice Act, which included a race-based limitation on students applying to attend a school outside of their resident school district. In independent litigation in 2012, a federal district court held that that provision of the Act violated the Equal Protection Clause. The Arkansas legislature then passed the 2013 School Choice Act, removing the race-based limitation on public school transfers and including a provision preventing a receiving school district from discriminating on the basis of race.
In the recent case, the Eighth Circuit held that because the 2013 Act had a carve-out for pre-existing judicial consent decrees that remedied the effects of past discrimination, the individual school districts could not show that the new law had an actual effect on the target of the decree and thus nothing warranted termination of the entire agreement.
Monday, August 8, 2016
First Circuit: Good Academic Performance Is Relevant But Not Determinative For Special Education Eligibility
The First Circuit published an opinion last week dealing with the ambiguity of the "need" provision in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The parents of a seventh-grader, called Jane Doe in the opinion, sued the local school district after it decided that Jane did not require special education in reading fluency because she was doing well in school. Jane had received special education services for years to improve her reading skills. Jane's parents argued that the "need inquiry" under the IDEA should determine whether a child needs special education to remediate the underlying disability. The school district argued that the need inquiry should determine whether a child needs special education to benefit from the school curriculum. If the child is doing well academically, the district argued, the child no long qualified for special education services. The case centers around the text of Section 1401(3)(A)(ii) of the IDEA that provides that a child determined to have one of the qualifying disorders under the first prong must also, “by reason thereof,” “need[ ] special education and related services” to be eligible for special education. 20 U.S.C. § 1401(3)(A)(ii). The First Circuit found that "Jane's overall academic performance could potentially be relevant in determining whether she has a reading fluency deficit, the district court erred in relying on such evidence without regard to how it reflects her reading fluency skills." The circuit court vacated and remanded the judgment in favor of the district, holding that the district court weighed Jane's overall academic achievement too heavily when the child's deficiency in reading fluency was sufficient by itself to support eligibility and that the district court afforded excessive deference to the hearing officer's determinations. In a concurrence, Circuit Judge Lipez offered guidance cautioning courts to not solely look at "an absolute standard of educational performance, the satisfaction of which would automatically disqualify a child from eligibility under the need prong." The case is Doe, v. Cape Elizabeth Sch. Dist., No. 15-1155, 2016 WL 4151377 (1st Cir. Aug. 5, 2016).
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
The State of Mississippi is being sued by parents who contend that a recent law unconstitutionally district public tax dollars from public school districts revenues to charter schools. Under the Mississippi Charter School Act of 2013 (CSA), charter schools in a public school district are entitled to a share of that district's state ad valorem tax revenue. The lawsuit's plaintiffs contend that a provision of the Mississippi Constitution forbids funding any school that is not a "free" school under the control of either the State Department of Education or district officials. (Mississippi's charters are instead supervised by an independent governing board.) The plaintiffs allege that the Jackson school district has already given $1.8 million of its funding to the two currently operating charter schools. A third charter is set to open in the coming school year,and the Jackson district school could be required to give up to $4 million to charter schools, resulting in shortfalls in personnel and education quality. The plaintiffs are represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the complaint in Arujo v. Bryant may be viewed on scribd here.
Monday, July 11, 2016
Baquerizo v. Garden Grove Unified Sch. Dist., No. 14-56464, 2016 WL 3435270 (9th Cir. June 22, 2016) - The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held in that a school district's offers to place an autistic student in a small classroom rather than a mainstream one did not deny the student a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Baquerizo v. Garden Grove Unified Sch. Dist., No. 14-56464, 2016 WL 3435270 (9th Cir. June 22, 2016). The student and his guardian sued the school district under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) after the district determined that he would benefit from a small class for students with mild to moderate disabilities rather than a mainstream classroom and refused to reimburse the cost of the student's private education during the following two school years. The plaintiffs had previously sued the district for failing to provide a FAPE and won; the Ninth Circuit affirmed in 2011 holding that the student was entitled to full reimbursement of his private tuition costs because the public school did not meet his educational needs. In this most recent decision, the Ninth Circuit deferred to the school district's decision that the smaller classroom would be better for the student's academic needs even though he may have benefited socially from a typical classroom setting.
James v. D.C., No. 14-CV-02147 (APM), 2016 WL 3461185 (D.D.C. June 21, 2016) -- The federal district court found that the District of Columbia Public School (DCPS) system did not comply with an intellectually disabled student's individualized education program (IEP) requiring her to receive specialized instruction, even though the school did not have a special education teacher to provide it. The district court found the student's guardian, her grandmother, was apparently unaware that the school was not carrying out student's IEP, and thus allowed her to remain enrolled in the school throughout the school year even though the school was not able to implement the IEP. The district court remanded the issue of whether the student had a speech and language disability to the Hearing Officer to determine whether DCPS failed to provide a timely speech-language evaluation as required by the IDEA.
Friday, July 8, 2016
Texas, Joined By Eleven States, Seeks Nationwide Injunction To Block DOE's Transgender Anti-discrimination Policy
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is seeking a nationwide preliminary injunction to stop the enforcement of the Department of Education's Dear Colleague letter to schools directing them not to discriminate against transgender students, particularly in students' choice of bathrooms. Paxton, along with Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, applied for the injunction on Tuesday asking the Northern District of Texas to enjoin the DOE's transgender-inclusive policy nationwide because the policy applies all of the nation's public schools. To persuade the district court that it has to the power to enjoin the policy nationwide, Paxton is relying on the Fifth Circuit's ruling last year granting injunctive relief that halted enforcement of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which provided for legal presence for illegal immigrants who were parents of citizens or lawful permanent residents. See Texas v. United States, 809 F.3d 134 (5th Cir. 2015), as revised (Nov. 25, 2015), cert. granted, 136 S. Ct. 906 (2016). The states' preliminary injunction motion is here and the original report at the Texas Tribune is here.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) announced a new regulation last week advising principals this fall to honor students' choices about their gender identity in restrooms, locker rooms, yearbooks, and graduation ceremonies, school officials told the Charlotte Observer. CMS said that the new guidance follows the Fourth Circuit's holding in G.G. v. Gloucester County Sch. Bd. (see our coverage here) and is not intended to defy North Carolina's law HB2, which, among other things, requires students to use public school restrooms and locker rooms based on the gender on their birth certificates. In G.G., the Fourth Circuit held that the U.S. Dept. of Education's interpretation that Title IX applies to transgender students was entitled to deference in light of the ambiguity of the meaning of "sex" in the statute. The new CMS regulation will require schools to identify and address students according to their preferred identity and will eliminate "gender-based activities that have no educational purpose, such as having a girls’ and boys’ line to go to recess."The Charlotte-Observer's story is here.
And speaking of G.G. v. Gloucester County Sch. Bd., on remand from the Fourth Circuit, last week the district court granted the preliminary injunction to allow the plaintiff to use the boys' restroom at Gloucester High School. The district court did not extend that access to any other school facilities, such as locker rooms, because the plaintiff's suit only sought bathroom access. The June 23 order of the Eastern District of Virginia is here.
Friday, June 24, 2016
Harpalani On Fisher II: The Fishing Expedition is Over: Victory for Affirmative Action in Fisher v. Texas
Vinay Harpalani (Savannah) shared his take on Fisher II below, which he writes "was the clearest victory for affirmative action" since Grutter and now gives universities clearer guidance on how race may be evaluated in admissions policies.
The Fishing Expedition is Over: Victory for Affirmative Action in Fisher v. Texas
Vinay Harpalani, J.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Law, Savannah Law School
Thursday’s decision in Fisher v. Texas II came down exactly 13 years to the day after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger—which created the basic legal framework for affirmative action in university admissions. And more than eight years after Abigail Fisher filed her lawsuit against the University of Texas at Austin (UT), alleging that its race-conscious admissions policy was unconstitutional, the case is finally over—she lost. Fisher was truly a fishing expedition: a weak case that went to the Supreme Court once before, only to be remanded to the Fifth Circuit and then reargued before the Court. The one issue that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion and Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent agreed upon was that there was no need for another remand. While both Justices brought up that possibility during oral arguments in December, everyone now thought that it was time to end this fishing expedition.
Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion affirming UT’s use of race was surprising. He had never before voted to allow a race-conscious policy, and he dissented in Grutter, which upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s holistic admissions plan. I expected him to strike down UT’s plan on narrow grounds, and even in the event of an affirmance, I would have expected a ruling that further narrowed the scope of race-conscious university admissions. But Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion did not do that. It pretty much affirmed the current Grutter-Fisher I framework for race-conscious university admissions.
In fact, the ruling today really helps universities—it gives them a more detailed blueprint on how to justify their race-conscious admissions policies. The Court’s Fisher I decision in 2013 made it clear that in order to meet strict scrutiny, a university must demonstrate that its use of race is necessary: that no “workable race-neutral alternatives” would achieve the same educational benefits of diversity. However, Fisher I did not give further guidance on how universities should do this: it merely remanded the case for proper application of this standard.
In Fisher II, however, Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion discusses how UT met this standard. He notes that UT “‘conducted months of study and deliberation, including retreats, interviews, [and] review of data.’” The majority opinion also referenced UT’s overall demographic data, its classroom data on minority enrollment, and its anecdotal evidence that minority students “experienced feelings of loneliness and isolation” on campus. Everything UT did can serve as a template for justifying race-conscious admissions; universities can now surmise that if they gather and present data similar to UT’s evidence, their policies can survive a legal challenge. Justice Kennedy did note that UT’s “program is sui generis” because of Texas’s Top Ten Percent Plan. Nevertheless, this model will still be very helpful to universities across the nation.
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Fisher II Upholds UT Austin's Policy That Includes Race As Relevant (Though Indirect) Factor In Some Admissions
Readers are doubtless poring over Fisher II this morning upholding the University of Texas at Austin's admissions policy that includes race as a relevant feature in a consideration of "special circumstances" for a quarter of the university's admissions. If you need a link, it is here: Fisher v. Univ. of Texas at Austin, 579 U.S. __ (Jun. 23, 2016).
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
The New Orleans Advocate reports that a high school student, through his mother, has sued the St. Tammy Parish School Board (Louisiana) alleging that a deputy sheriff and school officials illegally searched the student's cellphone. According to the news story, on Jan. 8, 2016, a deputy sheriff and school officials searched 16-year-old Fontainebleau High School sophomore Matthew DeCossas for evidence of marijuana possession. Finding no contraband on DeCossas' person, bag, or locker, officials asked DeCossas to unlock his cellphone, which was searched. They found a text conversation between DeCossas and another student about Vyvanse, a stimulant used to treat ADHD. After an investigation, DeCossas was expelled for four semesters. At the end of April, DeCossas sued the officials and the board under sec. 1983, alleging that they violated his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights by illegally searching him and pressuring him to make a statement before his parents were contacted. What makes DeCossas' case potentially different from student cellphone search cases such as this California case involving an on-campus search for firearms, is that if facts in the Advocate's report are correct, law enforcement and school officials had little basis for searching DeCossas' phone after failing to find anything incriminating during the initial search and that the object of the search, marijuana, is less alarming than the more obvious threat posed by guns at school. But we have not yet read the papers from the parish school board, so right now we only have the suit's allegations, available on Scribd. here.
Monday, June 13, 2016
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Sues NYC Department of Education For Discrimination At Pan American Int'l High School
In an unusual action, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office has sued the New York City Department of Education under Title VII for allegedly permitting a high school superintendent and principal to discriminate against the three black teachers employed at Pan American International High School and retaliate against an assistant principal who spoke out against the discrimination. The Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office has rarely, if ever, brought a race discrimination claim against a school district in recent years. In the office's press release in Flanagan v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ. et al., No. 13 Civ. 8456, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “It is nearly unthinkable that, in this day and age, one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the United States would allow racial discrimination and retaliation to flourish." Cribbed from the U.S. Attorney's press release: The Government alleges that during the 2012-2013 school year, the New York City DOE permitted Pan American Principal Minerva Zanca and Superintendent Juan Mendez to make derogatory racial comments about the school's only black teachers, such as saying that one teacher “looked like a gorilla in a sweater,” commented about one's “big lips quivering” during a meeting, and and that Zanca stated that she had difficulty suppressing her amusement at another teacher who reminded her of a Tropicana commercial where a black man “with those same lips” danced down a supermarket aisle. Several of these comments were made to or in the presence of the school's assistant principal, Anthony Riccardo. Zanca later accused Riccardo of “sabotaging her plan” when he refused to give one of the black teachers an unsatisfactory rating for a lesson that he had not yet seen. In response, Zanca called school security to have Riccardo removed from the premises. The Riccardo incident is part of the DOJ's retaliation grounds. The complaint in Flanagan v. N.Y.C. Dep’t of Educ. et al., No. 13 Civ. 8456 (filed 6/9/2016) may be viewed here.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Florida School Board Sued For Allegedly Funneling Recent Immigrant Students To Non-Credit, Fee-Based Program
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit yesterday in the Middle District of Florida challenging a policy of the Collier County, Florida School Board for allegedly steering English language learner (ELL) students off-site for adult English-only instruction. The named plaintiffs are two Guatemalan teens who were denied admission to high school in the Collier County district and instead referred an off-site, non-credit, adult, English language-only class at a local technical college. At issue is Collier County's age policy, which denies high school admission to students who are 17 years old or older who cannot meet graduation credit requirements by the end of the school year of their 19th birthday. The lawsuit alleges that despite federal and state civil rights laws and the federal and state mandates to teach and bring ELL students to grade level, the Collier County Board's policy acts to deny admission to recent immigrant students who lack English proficiency. The suit's allegations highlight potential barriers faced by immigrant children who seek to enroll in U.S. schools. A recent report by the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute, Ensuring Every Undocumented Student Succeeds: A Report on Access to Public Education for Undocumented Children, cited similar examples of schools' discouraging "enrollment of undocumented students due to ancillary considerations, such as testing, grade placement, and prospects of graduation." A copy of the SPLC lawsuit can be found here.
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Second Circuit Restores Class Certification Claim For Former Students Of Failed Vocational School Chain
The Second Circuit recently reversed the dismissal of a class action lawsuit by former students of a chain of cosmetology schools, even though the Department of Education (DOE) had discharged the student loans of the named plaintiffs, because the issue was likely to reoccur with other plaintiffs in the class. The Second Circuit held in Salazar v. King, Sec. of Education, No. 15-832 (2nd Cir. May 12, 2016), that the suit was not moot under an exception for “inherently transitory” class action claims that related back to the complaint's filing. Plaintiffs had alleged in the suit that the beauty school chain, Wilfred American Educational Corporation, fraudulently certified students' eligibility for federal student loans by telling the government that students without a GED or high school diploma had an “ability to benefit” from the program, which the Education Department required to certify eligibility for federal student loans. Wilfred did this by certifying that its students had passed an approved ATB test when they had not. Wilfred, which got nearly 90% of its revenue from student loan payments, eventually closed, leaving many of its attendees without the ability to complete their training. The U.S. government nevertheless required Wilfred students to repay their federal student loans for some years afterwards, some through tax refund seizures and wage garnishments. The Wilfred plaintiffs were never told that their student loans could be discharged by the Education Department if the school falsely certified their eligibility. The Second Circuit reversed the district court's finding that the DOE's actions were unreviewable under the agency discretion doctrine. The opinion is available here.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Ohio Supreme Court Holds That State Education Department Can Retroactively Claim Funds From Districts' Budgets
The Ohio Supreme Court recently reversed a trial court ruling and held that the State could retroactively lower school districts' funding without running afoul of the state constitution's retroactivity clause. The case arose when the State Dept. of Education determined that school boards in the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Toledo districts had been overpaid for fiscal year 2005 when it mistakenly counted students as part of district budgets even though the students were attending community schools outside of their home districts. The department recouped the overpayment by deducting the amounts from the boards’ school-foundation funding during fiscal years 2005-2007. The Cincinnati School District sued the department over its fiscal-year-2005 adjustment of Cincinnati’s school-foundation funding but settled before the Ohio Supreme Court could decide the case. In the meantime, the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation that allowed the department to adjust school funding retroactively and immunized the department from liability for any legal claim for reimbursement brought by a school district. The school districts argued and won a claim at trial that the elimination of their funds and of potential state liability violated the constitution's retroactivity clause because it impaired the boards’ substantive right to accrued education funding. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the department's position that the retroactivity clause was historically interpreted to protect private parties, not arms of the state, relying on U.S. Supreme Court holdings that political subdivisions do not have the same rights as private corporations or individuals, and authority from other state courts concluding that legislatures may retroactively reclaim money from school district budgets. The case is Toledo City School Dist. Bd. of Edn. v. State Bd. of Edn. (Ohio May 4, 2016).
Friday, April 22, 2016
A California appellate court held last month that school officials' search of a student's cellphone while investigating a firearm violation in the school was justified under the Fourth Amendment. In People v. Rafael C., a student was searched at school after officials found a gun and a magazine in a trash can. The student acted suspiciously near the principal's office, then failed to respond to a request to stop and speak with the assistant prinicipals. School officials detained the student, searched his pockets, and discovered a cell phone. An administrator searched through the phone and found text messages and photographs which he accessed on a computer and printed out. The photographs showed students holding the confiscated firearm found earlier at the school. Rafael C. was arrested and charged with weapons possession. In juvenile court proceedings, a judge denied Rafael's motion to suppress the photographs, finding that the search was a permissible administrative school search. The California Court of Appeals affirmed the juvenile court's denial of the motion to suppress. First, the court noted, the search was justified at its inception because Rafael allegedly was evasive and then turned combative while school officials were questioning him. This behavior gave school officials reasonable grounds for detaining the student and believing that he had violated school rules. The California appellate court relied instead on TLO v. New Jersey, which permits an exception to the warrant requirement when school officials had reasonable grounds to believe school rules have been broken. That exception is even more applicable when the search involves a firearm, a safety issue for the entire school. The appellate court held that the search also did not implicate Riley v. California (2014), in which the U.S. Supreme Court required a search warrant before officers could examine the contents of a cellphone during an arrest. The school search here was conducted before Riley was decided, and therefore school officials could not be "bound to a standard that did not yet exist." The appellate court thus affirmed Rafael C.'s delinquency adjudication, but modified the sentence. The case's slip opinion in People v. Rafael C., No. A143376 (Cal. App. Mar. 25, 2016) is here.