Tuesday, July 28, 2015
A settlement has been reached in Barnes v. Zaccari, the long-running case in which a Valdosta State University (Ga.) student was expelled in 2007 after he protested the VSU president's plans to build a new parking deck. After a letter-writing campaign opposing the environmental impact of VSU's parking deck plans, student Thomas Barnes posted a collage on his Facebook page titled “S.A.V.E.—Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage” that included a portrait of then-VSU President Ronald Zaccari. (A copy of the collage can be found here.) Zaccari interpreted the word "memorial" to apply to deceased persons, therefore signaling that Barnes contemplated harm to him. He ordered that Barnes be "administratively withdrawn" from VSU because Barnes presented a “clear and present danger” to the campus. Barnes sued Zaccari in federal court, claiming violations of his due process and free speech rights. The district court denied Zaccari's summary judgment motion based on qualified immunity. A federal district court denied Barnes' First Amendment retaliation claim, finding that because it was pled as a conspiracy claim and VSU's administrators opposed Zaccari's actions, there was no agreement to form a conspiracy. In 2013, a federal jury found the collage was innocuous expression, finding Zaccari personally liable for $50,000 for violating Barnes's rights. In January 2015, the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in Zaccari's favor on the First Amendment retaliation claim. Barnes v. Zaccari, 592 Fed.Appx. 859 (11th Cir. 2015). VSU apparently has decided that it is done fighting the case. Read more about the settlement at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education here.
D.C. Circuit Holds That District Must Pay For Residential School Placement After Failing To Provide An Alternative
Leggett v. Dist. of Columbia, No. 14-7021 (D.C. Cir. July 10, 2015) - Short take: when a school district drags its feet in providing a free appropriate education required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the district may be on the hook for a more costly one. In Leggett, the D.C. Circuit held that the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) was required to reimburse the costs of a private boarding school placement after DCPS failed to provide an individualized education program by the start of the school year. The IDEA requires school districts to reimburse parents for their private-school expenses if "(1) school officials failed to offer the child a free appropriate public education; (2) the private-school placement chosen by the parents was otherwise “proper under the Act”; and (3) the equities weigh in favor of reimbursement—that is, the parents did not otherwise act “unreasonabl[y].”" In Leggett, the parent requested an IEP under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act after her child did not complete the eleventh grade. DCPS failed to develop an IEP in time for the school year. After being told that her child would benefit from residential placement, Leggett chose a private boarding school where her child thrived. She sought reimbursement from DCPS for the cost of the residential program. DCPS countered that the residential school placement—with activities such as an equestrian program—was unnecessary because the student could have succeeded in a non-residential program. Both the due process hearing officer and the D.C. District Court found that DCPS violated the IDEA by failing to have an IEP in place by the beginning of the school year, but denied reimbursement because, in their view, the student did not require a residential program. The D.C. Circuit reversed the denial of reimbursement, holding that under Bd. of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 207 (1982), the student’s placement was proper because DCPS had offered no IEP, “identified no suitable alternative, and failed even to challenge Leggett’s claim that [the residential school] was the only available placement.” The circuit court held that on remand, DCPS could challenge the costs of extracurricular activities that were unnecessary for the student’s education. Read the opinion here.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia again found last week that the D.C. school district failed to comply with their “Child Find” duty to locate disabled students in the birth-to-five population, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The court found in 2010 that the D.C. district neglected its duties for years to identify, evaluate, determine eligibility, and ensure a smooth transition for services for preschool disabled children covered by the IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act. Following Wal-Mart v. Dukes in 2011, the D.C. Circuit Court vacated the original plaintiff class certification of disabled children and remanded for the district court to determine whether the plaintiffs' claims had sufficient commonality to represent a class. On remand, the district court certified four subclasses. In last week's decision, the district court found no genuine dispute that the "District's attempts to identify, evaluate, determine eligibility of, and transition disabled children were inadequate through and including 2007, [which is] sufficient to establish the District's liability under the IDEA on each subclass's claim." The District had been cited by the Office for Special Education Programs (OSEP) in 2001 for failing to conduct timely evaluations under its program compliance agreement. The case is DL v. D.C., No. CV 05-1437, 2015 WL 3630688 (D.D.C. June 10, 2015).
Thursday, July 2, 2015
The Supreme Court granted certiorari Monday to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the case about compulsory teachers' union dues that some observers say will threaten union financing. Friedrichs challenges California's “agency shop” laws, which require public employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment, Friedrichs argues that state's agency shop laws violate the First Amendment particularly when the union's positions conflict with individual teachers' on-the-job interests or personal beliefs. Friedrichs' certiorari petition presents two issues:
(1) whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) should be overruled and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements (that require teachers to join the union or pay the equivalent of union dues) should be invalidated under the First Amendment; and
(2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require that public employees affirmatively object to subsidizing nonchargeable speech by public-sector unions, rather than requiring that employees affirmatively consent to subsidizing such speech.
In Abood, the Supreme Court held that nonunion public sectors employees could not be required to fund political or social activities to which they objected, but employees could be required to fund activities that benefitted all employees related to “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes.” Because Abood controlled the outcome of Friedrich's claims, the Ninth Circuit summarily affirmed the district court's ruling against Friedrich.
Monday, June 29, 2015
The Supreme Court granted certiorari today in Fisher v. Univ. of Texas to revisit race-conscious admissions policies at the University of Texas at Austin. The Supreme Court remanded the Fisher case in 2013 for the Fifth Circuit to conduct a "searching examination" of whether UT's policies were narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in addition to the Fifth Circuit's upholding UT's policy, the justices may also consider new evidence that then-UT Austin President William C. Powers Jr. intervened on behalf of well-connected applicants (the elephant in the room for racial diversity policies in college admissions). The Chronicle of Higher Education's story is here.
Monday, June 22, 2015
The Supreme Court decided Ohio v. Clark last week, a case that we discussed earlier in the summer here, holding that a three-year-old's statements to his preschool teachers that his mother's boyfriend had hit him could be admitted at trial even though the child did not testify. The Court found that the child's statements were not "testimonial" under the Sixth Amendment because they were made in response to his teachers' questions about his injuries and not for the purposes of criminal law enforcement. The Court also indicated that in most instances, statements of non-testifying young children to daycare workers or teachers can be admitted at trial without violating the Confrontation Clause. Read the opinion here.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
A novel class action suit asks a federal court to require the Compton (CA) Unified School District to recognize and accommodate the effects of multiple traumas on its students. The plaintiffs are students who have suffered complex trauma of violence, abuse, and racism that has negatively impacted their school attendance and success. They allege that the Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act require the district to "accommodate students who are being denied benefits of educational programs solely by reason of experiencing complex trauma." They allege that the Compton school district has high concentrations of trauma-impacted students for whom individualized education plans are insufficient. Instead, the plaintiffs maintain, the district should start schoolwide trauma practices to keep students in school, including early and appropriate interventions to teach resilience; training educators about trauma; avoiding re-traumatizing students through the use of punitive discipline; and ensuring access to consistent mental health support. In a LA Times article, plaintiffs' counsel cited a counseling program started by the Los Angeles school district for trauma-impacted students as an appropriate intervention. The lawsuit is Peter P., et al., v. Compton Unified Sch. Dist., 2015 WL 2393294 (C.D.Cal., filed May 18, 2015).
Monday, June 1, 2015
Federal District Court Overturns School Policy Allowing Distribution Of Only Student-Written Literature
The Western District Court of Washington overturned a student's suspension on Friday for preaching and distributing Christian literature, the Pacific Justice Institute reports. Cribbing from the Institute's press release: Plaintiff Michael Leal is a senior at Cascade High School, part of the Everett Public Schools system. Leal violated the school district policy several times by preaching and passing out religious materials about his Christian faith to fellow students during the school day. The district's policy limited passing out such materials to times before or after the school day at school building entrances or with permission from school administrators. The district also required that this literature be written or produced by a student. Leal was disciplined and threatened with expulsion for repeatedly violating the policy. The federal district court had stated earlier in the case that the district's time, place, and manner restrictions on such speech were appropriate but was "troubled" by that part of the policy that prohibited students from passing out materials that were not written by students. According to the Institute's report, the district court decided that part of the policy could not stand. The case is Leal v. Everett Pub. Sch., No. 2:14-CV-01762 TSZ, 2015 WL 728651 (W.D. Wash. 2015).
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
A federal court in South Carolina recently found that a school district’s practice of including Christian prayers at elementary school graduation ceremonies violated the Establishment Clause, but approved a revised policy that allows student-initiated prayer at school events if the student is selected to speak based on “neutral criteria such as class rank or academic merit.” The plaintiffs, parents of an elementary student in the district joined by the American Humanist Society, challenged the Greenville County School District’s practice of having graduation ceremonies at a college chapel at which prayer opened and closed the event. (The claim about the location of the event was dismissed earlier.) The court found that the district’s new policy allowing students to initiate prayer did not contravene the Supreme Court’s First Amendment holdings because the district’s revised policy “simply refuses to preemptively restrain a certain type of message, namely religious,” as opposed to dictating when private religious speech would be allowed during school events. The case, American Humanist Assoc. v. South Carolina Dept. of Ed., is available here.
Friday, May 22, 2015
Supreme Court Declines Review of Case Presenting Circuit Split on IDEA's Stay-Put Provision
As covered by SCOTUSBlog, the Supreme Court declined certiorari this week in a special education case, Ridley School District v. M.R. The case presented a circuit split on the statutory definition of “proceedings” in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s (IDEA) stay-put provision, which determines how long a school district must pay for a student’s current educational placement during a legal dispute. The "stay put" rule safeguards students from having their education disrupted during litigation. The D.C. and Sixth Circuits have held that schools’ stay-put obligation ends upon entry of a final judgment by a trial court in favor of the school district; the Third and Ninth Circuits have held that school districts must continue to pay the costs of private school placements until the exhaustion of all proceedings, including appeals. Several school board associations joined in filing an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Third Circuit’s definition of “proceedings.” The school boards argued that the Third Circuit’s interpretation creates “an incentive for parents to engage in protracted litigation rather than working collaboratively with educators to resolve disputes without delay,” by placing the burden on a school district to continue to pay for alternative education after a district court’s determination that the district has provided sufficient education services.
Second Circuit Allows Amendment of Hearing-Impaired Child's Claim that Girl Scouts Organization Provides Education Services
The Second Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal of a Section 504 claim brought against the Chicago area chapter of the Girl Scouts for failing to provide a sign language interpreter to a hearing impaired girl. The circuit court found that the plaintiffs’ claim that the Scouts were “principally engaged” in education services was not futile, and thus they should have been allowed to amend their complaint. The plaintiffs, the girl and her mother as next friend, sued the Girl Scouts under the Rehabilitation Act after it stopped providing sign language interpreter services and then, when her mother objected, allegedly retaliated by disbanding the girl’s local troop. The Scouts responded that as a private organization, it was exempt from the Act’s coverage. The Second Circuit found that the Girl Scouts organization was subject to the Act as a private organization that is “principally engaged” in the business of providing education as defined under 29 U.S.C. § 794(b). The Second Circuit interpreted the statutory coverage of the term “education” beyond that provided by a traditional school system. Education, the circuit court reasoned, includes social and education services if they, in the aggregate, make up the primary activities of the private organization. The court noted that Girl Scouts’ literature touts the educational purposes of many of its activities, even in selling cookies. The court therefore reversed the dismissal to allow the plaintiffs to amend their complaint. The decision is Runnion ex rel. Runnion v. Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago & Nw. Indiana, No. 14-1729, 2015 WL 2151851 (7th Cir. May 8, 2015).
Seventh Circuit Finds Parent’s IDEA Claim as Preserved, But Pro Se Parent Cannot Represent the Child
The Seventh Circuit recently allowed a pro se mother of a special education student to pursue her parental rights to relief under the Individuals with Disabilities Act. The circuit court vacated the district court’s finding below that the mother did not specifically request reimbursement at a hearing before the Illinois State Board of Education to be reimbursed for the cost of her daughter's speech and language sessions, and thus was not aggrieved by the hearing officer's decision. The Seventh Circuit found that the hearing officer understood that the mother was requesting compensatory relief for speech and language services, and thus the officer ordered the Board of Education to pay for more speech sessions with the same pathologist that the mother had retained. However, the circuit court upheld the district court’s decision to deny the daughter’s claims because of the circuit’s holdings that a nonlawyer parent cannot represent her minor child pro se, a question left open in Winkelman ex rel. Winkelman v. Parma City School District, 550 U.S. 516 (2007). The decision is Foster v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chicago, No. 14-3035, 2015 WL 2214152 (7th Cir. May 11, 2015).
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
The Fifth Circuit decided a novel issue in its circuit on Monday, holding that the Houston Independent School District (HISD) may not be sued under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act because a governmental organization cannot be shown to have the required mens rea and that the HISD had immunity from RICO’s punitive treble-damages provision. The case arose when a former member of HISD’s Board of Trustees, Lawrence Marshall, allegedly used his position to steer the district’s construction projects to companies in which he served as a paid consultant. When HISD prohibited Marshall from doing that, those companies hired one of Marshall’s business associates who received consulting fees for district contracts, funneling a share of those fees to Marshall. The plaintiffs sued Marshall, HISD, and others in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas for violations of RICO, § 1983, and state law for breach of contract, estoppel, and civil conspiracy. The district court dismissed the RICO and state law tort claims against HISD, finding that the district was not a proper RICO plaintiff. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit held that a RICO allegation requires proof of an underlying criminal act, and a governmental entity cannot form the required mens rea for a crime. The court also found that HISD, as a municipal entity, has common law immunity from RICO’s partially punitive treble-damages provision. The court interpreted RICO’s treble damages provisions as awarding damages beyond the amount of actual harm, despite some Supreme Court language that RICO is “remedial in nature.” The Fifth Circuit also held that Marshall was not shielded as a HISD employee against state law claims. As an elected school board trustee, Marshall was not controlled by or in the paid service of the HISD, and therefore, he was not an employee. Even if he were to be considered an employee under some statutory definitions, receiving bribes, the court wrote, was outside the scope of his employment. The circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s grant of summary judgment against the individual defendants on the RICO and state law claims.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
U.S. Supreme Court Denies Certiorari in New Orleans Teachers' Challenge to Termination After Katrina
The U.S. Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs’ certiorari petition in Oliver v. Orleans Parish Sch. Bd. on Monday, ending the class action suit for 7,600 former New Orleans teachers and school employees. The teachers and other school employees claimed that Louisiana violated due process when the state terminated them after Hurricane Katrina and took over of 102 of the Orleans Parish’s 126 schools. Overturning the Louisiana Court of Appeals decision, the Louisiana Supreme Court below held last fall that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred by res judicata and that the Orleans Parish School Board did not violate the employees’ due process rights by failing to recall them after Hurricane Katrina. The Louisiana Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs’ claims were the subject matter of an earlier settlement between the OPSB and the Orleans Parish’s teachers’ union, the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO)—which included three persons who were also class members in Oliver case—and thus barred by res judicata. On the due process claim, the court found that the issues presented by Hurricane Katrina were so unique that there were only 526 positions available for the over 7,600 class members. Acknowledging that there was no recall list for teachers temporarily displaced by Katrina, the court found that OPSB’s employee hotline to communicate to determine which employees could return to work when the schools re-opened, while imperfect, was sufficient to satisfy due process. Finally, the court found that the plaintiffs had no constitutionally protected property interest in the right to “priority consideration” for employment with a third party, the Recovery School District. The Louisiana Supreme Court's decision is here.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
The Harrisburg Patriot-News reports that a racial bias suit against a Pennsylvania school district was settled this week. In 2014, the Webbs, a student and his mother, sued the Susquehanna Township School District after it expelled the student from high school for wearing a multifunction tool that had a knife on it. The student's mother sued when they learned that three white male students were treated differently than the student, who is black. In the other three instances, a white male student brought two airsoft pistols onto school and aimed at other students as they left the building; in the second, a white male student brought marijuana into a classroom; and in the third, a white male student brought a BB gun onto school grounds. On each of those occasions, the school superintendent did not recommend to expel the students. The Webbs sued in federal court claiming disparate treatment and violations of the 14th Amendment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). The Middle District of Pennsylvania dismissed their claims for lack of standing and because the statute of limitations had expired on some of the claims. However, the federal court gave the Webbs leave to amend their claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). Despite the dismissal, the school district reportedly settled the case for an undisclosed amount. The federal case was Webb v. Susquehanna Twp. Sch. Dist., No. 1:14-CV-1123, 2015 WL 871731 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 27, 2015).
Thursday, May 7, 2015
The U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon recently ruled that a school violated a student's free speech rights when it suspended him for posting on Facebook post that his teacher "needs to be shot." The eighth grade student was angry because his parents grounded him after he got a C in her class. The court wrote that the off-campus post post was unlikely to "materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school,” the required showing under Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist. The student's post did not announce a specific plan, and the school's choice of discipline, a three-day in school suspension, further convinced the district court that school officials did not take the comments seriously. Although the teacher was apprehensive about the student returning to school, she accepted the school's decision to let the student return. The district court distinguished a 2013 Ninth Circuit case, Wynar v. Douglas Co. Sch. Dist., which upheld a school suspension of a student for his threatening social media post because he detailed plans that targeted specific students. Read the district court's opinion in Burge v. Colton School Dist. 53 here.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Last week a federal court approved a consent order to put Huntsville, Ala. on the road to unitary status. The Huntsville schools must still comply with a decades-old federal desegregation order, but the consent order is a "plan to plan" to end the imbalances that led to federal oversight. In its order, the court wrote a message to the district's students in the district, urging them to show openness and patience as the school system rezoned them for new schools. Last year, the district court expressed skepticism about the district's progress toward unitary status, citing among other things, continued racial imbalance in the city's schools, discrepancies in disciplinary rates, and racial achievement gaps on measures of academic performance. Under the consent order, the school system is tasked with making progress in areas identified in the original desegregation order: (1) desegregation of faculty and staff; (2) majority to minority transfers; (3) equity in school construction and site selection; (4) interdistrict transfers; (5) equity in services, facilities, activities, and programs, including athletics and other extracurricular activities; and (6) equity in transportation. The consent order in Hereford v. Huntsville Bd. of Educ. is here.
Thursday, April 16, 2015
Female Teacher’s Discrimination Suit Can Proceed Against District Alleged to Prefer Male Coaches as Driver’s Ed Teachers
A federal district court in Alabama recently allowed a female teacher’s gender discrimination claim to proceed upon her sufficient showing that a school district preferred male employees as a driver’s education teachers. A female teacher in Mobile County, Alabama sought a driver’s education teaching position to allow her more free time to pursue coaching opportunities. She was turned down for two driver’s ed jobs and was told by school officials that male employees were preferred because they could also coach male sports. At a motion for summary judgment in federal court, the school district countered the plaintiff's claim, saying that the actual reason for the decisions was that the male employees had “good working relationships with the administrators at each school” and were held in high esteem. The Southern District of Alabama found that the plaintiff showed that the district’s reasons were pretextual because the jobs were never posted or interview procedures followed. The case is Shaw v. Mobile Cnty. Pub. Sch. Sys., No. CIV.A. 14-0111-CG-B, 2015 WL 419805 (S.D. Ala. Feb. 2, 2015).
Legitimate Security Concerns Cannot Override Prisons' Obligation to Provide Special Education Services
The Middle District of Pennsylvania recently held that while special education services can be modified for an incarcerated student who presents security concerns, an institution cannot restrict the student’s access to the extent that it denies his right to a free appropriate public education. The plaintiff, Stephen Buckley, was incarcerated at a restricted housing unit (RHU) at a young adult offender institution. Before his move to the RHU, Buckley was receiving special education services under the IDEA. While in the RHU, Buckley committed assaults and other rule infractions and thus was not permitted to attend the classrooms in the institution. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows incarcerated students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to be modified where the state proves a bona fide security interest that cannot otherwise be accommodated. In keeping with that provision, the prison provided Buckley a teacher at his cell and “self study packets” provided through the tray opening in his cell door. Buckley sued, alleging that that he was being denied a free appropriate public education and requested compensatory education. Buckley argued that the change from his previous IEP to the new arrangement at the RHU essentially eliminated his special education services. The in-cell study was inadequate because the self-study packets were not individualized to him, Buckley claimed, the teachers were only available once or twice per week, and the cellblock was too loud for instruction. The district court agreed, awarding compensatory education and finding that Buckley's “IEP contained no meaningful academic or functional goals, and the record is clear that the cell study program, as implemented, offered no more than a de minimis educational benefit.” The court rejected the institution’s suggestion that Buckley did not show any interest in interacting with the teacher or the self-study packets, noting that “appropriate education under the IDEA [is a right], not a privilege to be taken away.” The court hoped that restoring incarcerated students' opportunity for an education would interrupt “the vicious circle of incarceration for this at-risk population.” The case is Buckley v. State Corr. Inst.-Pine Grove, No. 1:13-CV-2022, 2015 WL 1610446 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 13, 2015).
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
In 2008 fifteen-year-old Abel Limones collapsed in the middle of a high school soccer game. When he was unable to get up, Thomas Busatta, his coach, ran onto the field to check on Abel. Within a few minutes Abel had lost consciousness and appeared to have stopped breathing. Busatta, who was trained and certified in the use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs), called for an AED. There was an AED in the game facility at one end of the field, however it was never brought to Busatta. EMS responders brought their own AED and were only able to revive Abel almost half an hour after his initial collapse. Due to the delay and a lack of oxygen, Abel suffered severe brain injury, placing him "in a nearly persistent vegetative state that will require full-time care for the remainder of his life."
Last week, the Washington Supreme Court held that the state's privacy law did not protect the names of public school employees who are on paid administrative leave during an investigation for misconduct. The case arose when media outlets sought information about district employees on administrative leave, which included two Spokane school employees who, incidentally, are cousins, one a high school counselor and the other a teacher. The employees sued to enjoin the district from disclosing the records, claiming that they were exempt under the state privacy statute as personal information maintained in an employee's file and as records compiled by an investigative agency. The Washington Supreme Court stated that the records were not protected because a "public employer's investigation is certainly not a private matter: it arises exclusively from the employee's public employment." Interestingly, the court drew parallels to Ferguson, Missouri, and what can happen when "public trust can be eroded when the public suspects the government is withholding information to protect its own." The Washington case is Predisik v. Spokane Sch. Dist. No. 81, No. 90129-5. In late March, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed a court of appeals decision in State ex rel. Quolke v. Strongsville City School Dist. Bd. of Ed., No. 2015-Ohio-1083, holding that the names of replacement teachers were subject to disclosure under the state public records law. After a 2013 teachers’ strike, the president of the Cleveland Teacher’s Union requested the names and identification numbers of all replacement teachers employed by the Strongsville City School District Board of Education under the public records law. The Board argued that releasing the names would violate the replacement teachers' privacy and put them in danger from striking teachers and their supporters. The Board’s concern was not entirely hypothetical, as there were skirmishes between the striking teachers and replacements during the strike that generally were non-physical. A teachers’ organization also posted a “wall of shame” on its website with the pictures of replacement teachers. But those concerns about the teachers’ privacy or well-being ended with the strike, the Ohio Supreme Court stated. Thus, interest in protecting the replacement teachers’ privacy did not outweigh the public interest in the records.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
In C.W. v. Capistrano School District, No. 12-57315 (9th Cir. Mar. 2, 2015), the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court's award of attorney's fees to a school district as the prevailing defendant in special education services case. Cribbed from the court's summary: School districts are rarely awarded attorney's fees, but can receive such fees when a complaint is either "frivolous" or "pursued for an improper purpose." The Ninth Circuit concluded that the complainant's ADA and § 1983 claims were frivolous, but reversed the district court's award of attorney’s fees and costs related to the complainant's claims under Section 504 and the IDEA. In the case, a mother sued the Capistrano, CA, School District to challenge the denial of an independent educational evaluation for occupational therapy for her child, who had special education needs. While litigating her IDEA claim, the mother alleged that her child’s school district violated the IDEA, Section 504, the ADA and § 1983 by improperly threatening to seek sanctions against her and her counsel if they appealed the administrative denial of the child’s IDEA claims. In a letter to the mother's counsel, the district wrote, "the District reserves the right to seek sanctions against you and your client if the most recent administrative decision is appealed." The Ninth Circuit noted the mother and her counsel did not file a frivolous complaint under the IDEA by doing what the law permits them to do, which is appeal from a denial of occupational therapy that the mother felt that the child deserved. The circuit court found that the outcome of the ADA intimidation claim and the § 1983 claim were more obvious as lacking any legal foundation, however. The circuit court noted that "[b]y its own terms, protection under the ADA against intimidation does not extend to a plaintiff’s attempts to exercise rights granted or protected by the IDEA," and once the district court told the plaintiff that her claim was meritless under the statute's terms, she and her counsel should not have appealed it on the same grounds. Read C.W. v. Capistrano School District here.