Articles Posted in Education Law

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Plaintiff Abigail Ross was allegedly raped by a fellow student at the University of Tulsa. The alleged rape led plaintiff to sue the university for money damages under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the University of Tulsa, and plaintiff appealed. On the first theory, the dispositive issue was whether a fact-finder could reasonably infer that an appropriate person at the university had actual notice of a substantial danger to others. On the second theory, there was a question of whether a reasonable fact-finder could characterize exclusion of prior reports of the aggressor's sexual harassment as "deliberate indifference." The Tenth Circuit concluded both theories failed as a matter of law: (1) campus-security officers were the only university employees who knew about reports that other victims had been raped, and a reasonable fact-finder could not infer that campus-security officers were appropriate persons for purposes of Title IX; (2) there was no evidence of deliberate indifference by the University of Tulsa. View "Ross v. University of Tulsa" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were families with children enrolled in the Douglas County School District RE-1 (“DCSD”) and the American Humanist Association (“AHA”). Plaintiffs filed suit challenging various DCSD practices as violations of the Establishment Clause and the Equal Access Act (“EAA”), contending DCSD engaged in a pattern and practice of promoting Christian fundraising efforts and permitting faculty participation in Christian student groups. The Tenth Circuit found most of the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that they or their children experienced “personal and unwelcome contact with government-sponsored religious” activities. Furthermore, they failed to demonstrate their case for municipal taxpayer standing because they could not show expenditure of municipal funds on the challenged activities. The sole exception is plaintiff Jane Zoe: she argued DCSD violated the Establishment Clause when school officials announced they were “partnering” with a Christian student group and solicited her and her son for donations to a “mission trip.” The district court held that because Zoe’s contacts with the challenged actions were not conspicuous or constant, she did not suffer an injury for standing purposes. The Tenth Circuit found "no support in our jurisprudence" for the contention that an injury must meet some threshold of pervasiveness to satisfy Article III. The Court therefore concluded Zoe had standing to seek retrospective relief. View "American Humanist Assoc. v. Douglas County School District" on Justia Law

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The district court did not err in its grant of summary judgment in favor of an employee's former employer and supervisors in her Title IX discrimination and retaliation suit. Dr. Tawny Hiatt was hired by Colorado Seminary, which owned and operated the University of Denver ("DU"). DU hired Dr. Hiatt to be a Staff Psychologist and Training Director for the Health and Counseling Center ("HCC"). Dr. Hiatt was responsible for supervising psychology students seeking their professional licensure. Dr. Hiatt was, in turn, supervised by Dr. Alan Kent, the Executive Director of the HCC, and Dr. Jacaranda Palmateer, the HHC’s Director of Counseling Services. Dr. Hiatt developed a romantic relationship with one of the fellows she supervised, and it came to the attention of her supervisors. Dr. Hiatt met with Dr. Kent and Dr. Palmateer. Dr. Kent presented Dr. Hiatt with three options: (1) resign; (2) be demoted and undergo six months of outside counseling about her supervisory style; or (3) remain in her position and allow Human Resources (“HR”) to handle the matter. Dr. Kent and Dr. Palmateer explained they were presenting these options because: (1) a “majority” of trainees refused to be supervised by Dr. Hiatt and she had lost “credibility and authority in their view”; (2) her conduct posed a “grey ethical issue,” and a Training Director needed to display “exemplary ethics, boundaries, and professionalism”; and (3) her “approach to therapy and supervision required a strict adherence to boundaries which weren’t demonstrated in this situation” and her response to the students’ reactions showed a “lack of personal responsibility.” Before Dr. Hiatt chose an option, her attorney sent DU a letter claiming DU’s request for Dr. Hiatt to leave her position as Training Director amounted to sex discrimination. Dr. Hiatt accepted the second option, demotion, with the attendant reduction in pay. The district court held Dr. Hiatt failed to show she was treated less favorably than similarly situated employees not in her protected class, which the court believed was “required” for Dr. Hiatt to state a prima facie case of sex discrimination. On the retaliation claims, the court reasoned that, even if she could state a prima facie case, the claims failed because she did not show DU’s reasons for any adverse employment actions were pretextual for retaliation. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Tenth Circuit affirmed summary judgment. View "Hiatt v. Colorado Seminary" on Justia Law

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Monica Pompeo, a student in a graduate-level course at the University of New Mexico (“UNM”), claimed that UNM officials retaliated against her in violation of her free speech rights because they disagreed with viewpoints she expressed in an assigned class paper. In "Axson-Flynn v. Johnson," (356 F.3d 1277 (10th Cir. 2004)), the Tenth Circuit held courts may not override an educator’s decision in the school-sponsored speech context “unless it is such a substantial departure from accepted academic norms as to demonstrate that the person or committee responsible did not actually exercise professional judgment” and instead used “the proffered goal or methodology [as] a sham pretext for an impermissible ulterior motive.” Here, Pompeo asked the Tenth Circuit to draw an analogy between the religious discrimination at issue in "Axson-Flynn" and the viewpoint discrimination she complained of in this case. "Yet our court has specifically held that precedent 'allows educators to make viewpoint-based decisions about school-sponsored speech' and may restrict speech they believe contains 'inflammatory and divisive statements.'" Finding no reversible error in the district court's grant of summary judgment to UNM, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Pompeo's case. View "Pompeo v. Board of Regents" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant A.M. filed this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on behalf of her minor child, F.M., against two employees of the Albuquerque Public Schools: Cleveland Middle School (“CMS”) Principal Susan LaBarge and Assistant Principal Ann Holmes. A.M. also filed suit against Officer Arthur Acosta of the Albuquerque Police Department (“APD”). A.M. brought several claims stemming from two school-related events: (1) the May 2011 arrest of F.M. for allegedly disrupting his physical-education class, and (2) the November 2011 search of F.M. for contraband. Holmes and LaBarge sought summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, and the district court granted their respective motions. The court also denied A.M.’s motion for summary judgment on her claims pertaining to Officer Acosta after determining that Officer Acosta was entitled to prevail on qualified-immunity grounds too. On appeal, A.M. argued that the district court erred in awarding qualified immunity to all of the defendants. The Tenth Circuit consolidated these matters for review, and found o reversible error in the district court's grant of qualified immunity. View "A.M. v. Holmes" on Justia Law

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J.S. is the mother of M.S., a child covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). M.S. was a residential student at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind (“USDB”). Believing USDB was not complying with IDEA’s procedural requirements and was not providing M.S. with free appropriate public education (FAPE), J.S. sought a due process hearing. Unsatisfied with the relief she obtained in that hearing, J.S. filed a civil action in federal court, and appealed the district court decision granting her additional limited relief. She asserts the district court erred when it: (1) delegated its authority to resolve the propriety of M.S.’s residential placement to members of the team tasked with developing M.S.’s individualized education program (“IEP”); and (2) granted her only a partial award of attorneys’ fees. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court delegated the issue of M.S.’s residential placement to her IEP team and that such delegation "[was] at odds with" 20 U.S.C. 1415. The Court remanded this case to the district court to resolve the issue of M.S.’s residential placement and reconsideration of the attorney fee award. View "M.S. v. Utah School for the Deaf" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the Kansas Board of Education (the “Board”) adopted curriculum standards establishing performance expectations for science instruction in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Appellants, Citizens for Objective Public Education, Kansas parents, and school children (collectively, “COPE”), contended that although the standards purported to further science education, their concealed aim was to teach students to answer questions about the cause and nature of life with only nonreligious explanations. COPE also claimed two plaintiffs had standing as taxpayers who objected to their tax dollars being used to implement the Standards. The district court disagreed, and dismissed the suit without prejudice for lack of standing. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded all of COPE's theories of injury failed, and affirmed the district court's dismissal. View "COPE v. KS State Board of Education" on Justia Law

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C.V. was a seven-year-old second grade student at an elementary school operated by Albuquerque Public Schools (“APS”). He was eligible for special education benefits for autism. One morning in 2011, C.V. disrupted his class, ran away from APS staff, kicked an APS social worker, and kicked and shot rubber bands at APS School Security Officer Xiomara Sanchez. To protect C.V. and others, Officer Sanchez handcuffed him to a chair. Before doing so, Officer Sanchez had called C.V.’s mother, who granted permission to restrain him, and repeatedly warned C.V. to calm down. Officer Sanchez was unaware of C.V.’s disability. C.V.’s parents sued under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), claiming APS denied C.V. a protected benefit and discriminated against him. The district court granted summary judgment to APS. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed that decision. View "J. V. v. Albuquerque Public Schools" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of allegations that AKC, a child with autism, suffered abuse at school by her special-education teacher, Vickie Cantrell. AKC’s parents, Ted and Bella Carroll, filed suit in federal district court against Cantrell, the school district, and others, seeking damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and a variety of state-law theories. The district court dismissed the Carrolls’ federal claims, concluding the Carrolls had not exhausted their administrative remedies before filing suit as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the IDEA). The district court then dismissed the Carrolls’ complaint, declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over their state-law claims. The Carrolls appealed. The single issue on appeal before the Tenth Circuit was whether the district court erred in determining the Carrolls’ federal claims were subject to the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement. Because the Court concluded the Carrolls’ complaint alleged educational injuries that could have been redressed to some degree by the IDEA’s administrative remedies, it agreed with the district court that exhaustion of those remedies was required before the Carrolls could file suit. View "Carroll v. Lawton Independent School" on Justia Law

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Christine B., the mother of student "A.F.," filed suit claiming that the Espanola Public Schools failed to address appropriately her daughter's disabilities in the educational program it formulated for her. Before any hearing could be held, Christine sought to mediate her dispute. In the end, the parties signed a settlement agreement. As a result of the settlement, Christine B. asked the administrative agency to dismiss her Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) claims with prejudice. Despite the satisfactory result she received through mediation, Christine B. filed suit again, though not pursuant to IDEA, but under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The allegations in her federal court complaint and those in her original IDEA administrative complaint were nearly identical: both alleged that A.F. suffered from the same disabilities and both contended that the school district failed to take her disabilities into account in her educational program. Agreeing with the school district that Christine B. failed to exhaust available administrative remedies, the district court dismissed her lawsuit. Christine B. appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. View "A.F. v. Espanola Public Schools" on Justia Law