October 2008 Archives

This decision is a couple of weeks old but I just came across it, and it is an interesting intersection of state and federal anti-discrimination law. A state appeals court in California has upheld jury awards of $175,000 and $125,000 to two students who suffered anti-gay harassment from their peers at school. The court said the Poway Unified School District violated the students' rights under a state anti-discrimination law because of its insufficient response to the harassment. The court also upheld findings that the principal and assistant principal at Poway High School violated one student-plaintiff's federal constitutional right ...


A couple of quick items for a Friday afternoon: Disability Guidance: My colleague Christina Samuels has this story in Education Week about informal guidance from the U.S. Department of Education on when it is proper for schools to refer to a student's disability status on report cards and transcripts. The simple answer is that it is OK under certain circumstances to note a student's disability status on a report card, but it usually isn't OK on a transcript. The Education Department's office for civil rights issued this "dear colleague" letter, as well as this question-and-answer document. Desegregation in Tucson: ...


A couple of interesting decisions from recent weeks on free speech for school employees and students have just crossed my desk. Employee Speech: A federal appeals court has revived the lawsuit of an Idaho school security specialist who claims he lost his job in retaliation for raising concerns with administrators about school discipline and safety. A three-juge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled unanimously on Oct. 15 in Posey v. Lake Pend Oreille School District that under a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on speech by public employees, a ...


A federal district judge has ruled that a New York City school system rule barring teachers from wearing campaign buttons in school is likely constitutional. In an Oct. 17 opinion, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of U.S. District Court in Manhattan rejected a request by the United Federation of Teachers for a preliminary injunction that would bar enforcement of the "chancellor's regulation" against wearing political buttons. "While a majority of students, particularly older students, presumably would understand that the views expressed by their teachers’ campaign buttons are personal rather than institutional," Judge Kaplan said, "there is a clear relationship between ...


The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear the appeal of a Minnesota family in a case about the burden of proof in legal disputes over special education. The appeal in M.M. v. Special School District No. 1, Minneapolis, comes from the parent of a child with multiple disabilities who ended up in administrative proceedings over the child's services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. At issue is whether the parent or the state of Minnesota would have the burden of proof in the proceedings. In a 2005 opinion known as Schafferv. Weast, the Supreme Court ...


The following story appears in the next edition of Education Week. It is based on an Oct. 15 forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The conference lineup and draft papers are available here. Scholars Weigh Court Influence Over School Practices, Climate By Mark Walsh Washington The courts play a big part in many aspects of public education in the United States, but it wasn’t always that way. And was the situation inevitable? That was one question that a group of legal scholars, education policy experts, and a few practitioners sought to answer ...


What do public school principals and teachers share in common with the average police officer on the street? The answer is an interest in the body of law concerning official immunity from liability in lawsuits that challenge their actions. The police are sometimes sued personally by criminals or suspects over charges of the alleged deprivation of constitutional rights. Educators are sued by students and their parents over a whole range of actions. Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s precedents on so-called qualified immunity, such government officials are immune from suit unless they violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights ...


A federal appeals court today upheld immunity for administrators at a Kentucky middle school over their role in turning in a student to law enforcement officials for giving a prescription pill to another student. The student and her parents sued the Grant County school district and various officials, alleging that their actions violated the girl's rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution be officials essentialy coerced a confession out of her. The alleged facts are a little bizarre, because according to court papers, the 7th grade student identified as A.E. went to the school ...


The U.S. Supreme Court today heard arguments in a case involving alleged sexual harassment in a school district central office. The justices appeared inclined to give a broad reading of an anti-retaliation provision of the main federal employment-discrimination law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on race, sex, and other factors, and it covers sexual harassment. One provision of Title VII is designed to prohibit retaliation by employers against those who “opposed” an unlawful employment practice, or “made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, ...


A federal appeals court has upheld a Michigan school district's restrictions on a student's distribution of an anti-abortion leaflet at his middle school. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled unanimously that a school principal could place reasonable "time, place, and manner" restrictions on the leaflet. A student identified in court papers as Michael L. was a 14-year-old 8th grader at Jefferson Middle School in Monroe, Mich., in 2006 when he first sought to distribute leaflets citing abortion statistics on a Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity promoted nationally by the ...


The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to review several education cases, including the appeal of two Massachusetts families of a lower court decision that a school district did not violate their rights by exposing children to books promoting tolerance for gay marriage and families led by same-sex couples. The case was one of hundreds the justices refused to review on the first formal day of their new term. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, in Boston, had ruled unanimously in January that the Lexington, Mass., school system did not violate the ...


A pair of special education parents in Ohio won their battle in the U.S. Supreme Court last year, but this week they lost the war. Jeff and Sandee Winkelman had sued the Parma, Ohio, school district over the special education services for their son, who has a form of autism. They lost on the merits in U.S. District Court, where they had the help of a lawyer. By the time they appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, they could no longer afford legal counsel, so they sought to represent themselves. ...


I love this little case. A Texas man, Brent E. Crummey, sought to pay his school district taxes with $50 U.S. American Eagle gold bullion coins, and apparently have the district accept the higher value of the coins in the open gold market than their face value as legal tender. The school district said no, so the man sued. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, ruled against the man on Oct. 2, holding that "as legal tender, a dollar is a dollar." "The legal monetary value of Crummey’s...


I have the following article in next week's issue of Education Week about education cases I am following in the new U.S. Supreme Court term. I have added links to lower-court rulings or Supreme Court filings where available. * * * The 2008-09 term of the U.S. Supreme Court, which begins this week, has a docket that includes education-related cases involving employment and sex discrimination, the rights of teachers’ unions, and legal immunity for public officials, including educators. The justices will continue to add cases to be heard during the new term for the next several months. These are among the ...


The U.S. Supreme Court issued an orders list today adding 10 new cases for its 2008-09 term, but it did not grant review of any of the dozen or so education cases that were on its agenda. The court typically meets in the week before the formal opening of its new term, which is next Monday, Oct. 6, to review the hundreds of appeals that have piled up over the summer. Among the school issues arising in those cases are student free speech, the burden of proof in special education proceedings, parents' objections to school lessons on gay tolerance, ...


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