January 2008 Archives

A federal appeals court today ruled against two Massachusetts families who objected to their children being exposed in public school to books and discussions promoting tolerance for gay marriage and families led by same-sex couples. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, in Boston, ruled unanimously that the Lexington, Mass., school system did not violate the rights of the parents or children by exposing them to books that they found objectionable on religious grounds. One family objected to their child being presented in kindergarten and 1st grade with two books that portrayed diverse ...


A federal appeals court today said it would take a fresh look at a case in which a student is challenging being strip-searched by school officials looking for prescription drugs. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, said in a brief order that the full court had voted to rehear the case of Redding v. Safford Unified School District. The full court essentially set aside this September 2007 decision by a three-judge 9th Circuit panel that upheld the Safford, Ariz., district and various school officials over the student search. According to that decision, middle ...


The U.S. Supreme Court has just issued the schedule for oral arguments for its April session, the final round of cases to be argued for decision in the court's 2007-08 term. The absence of Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (Case No. 06-1595) from the schedule means that that case, which concerns alleged retaliation against a witness in an investigation into sexual harassment in a school district central office, will be argued in the high court term that begins next October. I reported on the Crawford case in the blog here and in Education Week here. ...


The Jefferson County, Ky., school board heard a proposal on Monday for how it might be able to keep its schools integrated in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that restricted the consideration of race in assigning students to schools. The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that race, income, and family education levels would be considered equally in assigning the district's 98,000 students to schools. "Under the proposal, all schools--elementary, middle and high--must enroll at least 15 percent and no more than 50 percent of their students from neighborhoods that have income and education levels below ...


In this week's print edition of Education Week, I have this story about the relatively few school-related cases that will be argued in the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2007-08 term. The court has heard only one case directly involving a school district, and the justices deadlocked in that case, Board of Education of New York City v. Tom F. The court is now finished accepting cases for argument in the current term. It will hear arguments for recently granted cases in February, March, and April, with decisions expected in all its pending cases by late June. While there ...


The Juneau, Alaska, school board is pursuing some $5,000 in legal fees from the former high school student whose "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, the Juneau Empire is reporting. The justices ruled 6-3 last year in Morse v. Frederick that the banner unfurled by Joseph Frederick at an Olympic torch relay outside his high school was not protected speech under the First Amendment. Five members of the court signed an opinion that said school officials have the right to regulate drug-related messages on school campuses. I reported on the decision ...


A federal appeals court today ruled against a family seeking to compel a school district to allow a service dog to accompany a student with a hearing impairment at school. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, ruled unanimously that the parents had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies under federal special education law before suing the East Meadow Union Free School District. According to the decision, the parents had asked school officials to allow their son to bring his service dog, Simba, to school. The dog would help ...


The U.S. Supreme Court today ordered a federal appeals court to reexamine a securities-fraud case in which the California State Teachers' Retirement System is the lead plaintiff. In a brief order, the justices told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, to restudy the California case in light of their decision last week in Stoneridge Investment Partners LLC v. Scientific-Atlanta Inc. In that case, the court ruled that federal securities law does not allow fraud claims against third parties who did not directly mislead investors, even if they were business partners of companies ...


The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of a Virginia school district over whether the federal special education law requires that school officials offer a specific school site in the individualized education program for a student with disabilities. The appeal in Alexandria City School Board v. A.K. (Case No. 07-541) involved the IEP developed for the 2004-05 school year for a student with multiple disabilities. The Alexandria district proposed day placements in two private schools, but the child's parents refused the IEP and sought reimbursement for placing their child in a different private school. A ...


Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings issued a letter to state schools chiefs today to voice a more detailed disagreement with last week's federal appeals court ruling on the unfunded-mandates provision of the No Child Left Behind Act. My colleague David Hoff has a more extensive post on the letter on his NCLB: Act II blog. I wrote about the ruling in the School Law Blog here, and in an Education Week story....


The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to take up a case stemming from allegations of sexual harassment in a school district central office. The question in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (Case No. 06-1595) is whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects a worker from being dismissed because she cooperated with her employer's internal investigation. The appeal was brought by Vicky S. Crawford, who worked with Gene Hughes, the director of employee relations for the Metro Nashville school district. According to court papers, the Metro Nashville/Davidson County government, which includes ...


A federal appeals court ruled today that remedies available under the main federal special education law do not limit parents from also pursuing claims under a broader federal law barring discrimination against people with disabilities. "The availability of relief under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act does not limit the availability of a damages remedy under" U.S. Department of Education regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, said in a unanimous ruling. In a case from Hawaii, the court held that ...


A federal appeals court today partially reinstated a parent's lawsuit against a school district and superintendent stemming from the treatment of the parent's daughter, who has diabetes. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Detroit, ruled unanimously that the parent may have a valid claim that the superintendent retaliated against her for public criticisms that were protected by the First Amendment. The case stems from what appears to have been a nasty spat between the parent and the district over such things as whether the school nurse would administer the student's insulin ...


A school principal did not violate the First Amendment rights of a 5th grader when she barred him from distributing candy cane-shaped Christmas ornaments with an attached card promoting Christianity, a federal appeals court ruled today. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Detroit, ruled unanimously in Curry v. Hensinger to uphold qualified immunity for the principal of the Handley School in Saginaw, Mich. The student, Joel Curry, had sought to sell the "candy canes," which actually were pipe cleaners and beads shaped to look like the Christmas confection and meant as ...


This week marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which gave school administrators sweeping authority to regulate student speech in school-sponsored publications and activities. In the Jan. 13, 1988, ruling, the court held 5-3 that the principal of Hazelwood East High School in suburban St. Louis did not violate the First Amendment rights of journalism students when he withheld publication of two pages of the student newspaper because of concerns he had about articles on divorce and teenage pregnancy. Justice Byron R. White wrote for the majority that "educators are entitled to ...


In a case being watched closely by teacher-retirement funds, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that a federal securities law does not allow fraud claims against third parties who did not directly mislead investors, even if they were business partners of companies that did so. The issues in Stoneridge Investment Partners LLC v. Scientific-Atlanta Inc. (Case No. 06-43) are pretty far afield from education law that affects the classroom. But the case drew friend-of-the-court briefs from the California State Teachers' Retirement System, the New York State Teachers' Retirement System, and the New York City Board of Education Retirement System, ...


The U.S. Supreme Court today declined review of an appeal involving special education services for preschoolers. The question in D.P. v. Broward County School Board (Case No. 07-613) was whether a 3-year-old who transitions from early-intervention services under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to preschool services under Part B of the law is entitled to continue receiving the early-intervention services until the completion of a review of the child's proposed preschool program. (That is a paraphrase that sticks very close to how the family's lawyers phrased it in their appeal to the high court.) ...


It's been a banner week for teachers' unions in the federal courts. On Monday, the National Education Association won a big federal appeals court ruling reviving its legal challenge to the No Child Left Behind Act. Now, the Utah Education Association, an NEA affiliate, has won a ruling that says a state law barring state and local public employers from withholding workers' voluntary political contributions violates the First Amendment. The UEA was joined by several other state public-employee unions in its challenge to the law. In the case of teachers, those voluntary contributions are typically designated for teachers' union political ...


This grant opportunity caught my eye: "The Courts and K-12 Education" is the inaugural theme for a new grant program for scholars by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The Fordham Scholars grant program will aim to assist advanced doctoral students and junior faculty members in such areas as economics, law, and political science. The announcement says "successful projects in this year's round will examine how the courts (state, federal, etc.) may affect the ability of educators, policymakers, and entrepreneurs to foster stronger pupil achievement; greater choices for families; more efficient school operations; promising innovations in curriculum, instruction, school organization and, ...


A federal judge has ruled that a rural Missouri school district's longstanding practice of allowing Gideon Bibles to be distributed to students is unconstitutional, the Associated Press reports. The judge's opinion says that both the South Iron R-1 school district's earlier policy allowing classroom Bible distribution and an amended policy allowing the distribution before and after school and during lunch breaks violates the First Amendment's prohibition against government establishment of religion....


In a case being watched by education groups, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments today on whether certain disparities in Kentucky's public-employee retirement system violate a federal age-discrimination law. By the end of the hourlong argument, it seemed clear that a majority of the justices disagreed with the position of the Bush administration, through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that Kentucky's system violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The case arose because of the different ways the retirement system handles workers who retire for disability reasons and those who retire because they have served the ...


A case to be argued in the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday over state and local-governmental early-retirement programs has drawn the interest of education groups. In Kentucky Retirement Systems v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the justices are essentially weighing whether it is OK for age to be a factor in an early-retirement system. That may sound like it borders on the absurd, but at issue is whether Kentucky violates the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act by its disparate treatment of workers seeking disability retirement versus those seeking early retirement based on years of service. The National School Boards ...


The Associated Press is reporting that a company and a school district's test of putting electronic-tracking chips in students' backpacks is raising the hackles of the American Civil Liberties Union. According to the AP, the pilot test in the Middletown, R.I., district would put the so-called radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in or on the backpacks of some 80 students, as well as a global positioning system device on their schoolbuses. The main goal appears to be to track whether students are on the bus when they should be. The head of the Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU ...


Today's ruling by a federal appeals court reviving a legal challenge to the No Child Left Behind Act is unquestionably a major victory for the National Education Association and a coalition of school districts. The NEA's suit on behalf of itself, some of its state affiliates, and nine school districts in Michigan, Texas, and Vermont had been languishing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit for more than two years after a federal district judge in Detroit had dismissed the suit in 2005. But now a majority on a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit court ...


In a significant development just as the No Child Left Behind Act is turning 6 years old this week, a federal appeals court has revived a major lawsuit challenging the federal education law as an unfunded mandate. The opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, is here. Education Week reported in 2005 on a federal district judge dismissing the suit, which is backed by the National Education Association. I'll have more on the 6th Circuit decision soon....


In this week's "Law & Courts" column in Education Week, I explored a couple of recent court rulings about what I thought was an interesting question: Do students have a due-process right to confront the witnesses against them in school disciplinary cases? As I discussed in the column, two courts in New Mexico and Illinois answered "no." As it turns out, most courts that have confronted the issue (no pun intended) have also ruled against students, citing such things as the complexity such a right would add at the school disciplinary level, the potential effect on whether students would be willing ...


This is a new Education Week blog on legal issues in education. I have covered school law for the newspaper for more than 15 years. After a few years off the beat, I returned last spring, just in time for the U.S. Supreme Court to finish one of its most significant terms for K-12 education in a generation. (See a summary of the cases from the 2006-07 term, which is embedded in this story about the decision in one of them, the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" student speech case.) My plan for this blog is to be newsy, with ...


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