Articles Posted in Education Law

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Mother contends that Utica Schools (UCS) violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400 because the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for her son, Dylan did provide him with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Dylan suffers from Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourette’s Disorder, and symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. During the 2012–2013 school year, Dylan was 18 years old and in his fifth year of high school. Dylan's IEP provided that Dylan’s IEP team would implement and document a trial of “assistive technology” and that his curriculum would be evenly split between special education and general education classes. The “Post-Secondary Vision and Transition Activities” section listed several activities in which Dylan was interested that could lead to employment but did not list any next steps or resources. UCS placed Dylan in Community Based Inclusion (CBI) for two periods of his school day. CBI covers “daily living skills, employability training, recreation[,] leisure, [and] personal social skills.” Dylan was enrolled in three special education classes and one general education class, so the CBI placement was inconsistent with his IEP. After mother objected, UCS provided Dylan with instruction in the office, apart from other students. By June 2013, the school had reevaluated Dylan and developed a new IEP, which was amended several times. Mother voluntarily withdrew Dylan from UCS and enrolled him in private school. She filed an administrative complaint with the Michigan Department of Education. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment, noting that the district acknowledged denying Dylan a FAPE. UCS was ordered to pay for 1,200 hours of tutoring and one year of transition planning as compensatory education and to pay $210,654.65 in attorney fees and costs. View "Somberg v. Utica Community Schools" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law

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In 1984, a Tennessee jury convicted Zagorski of two first-degree murders and sentenced him to death. The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the convictions and sentence; state courts denied post-conviction relief. Zagorski sought federal habeas corpus relief, alleging that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate an alternative suspect, that the court erred by improperly instructing the jury on the meaning of mitigating circumstances, and that the jury could not constitutionally impose the death penalty because prosecutors originally offered a plea deal for two life sentences. Finding all three arguments procedurally defaulted, the district court denied relief, the Sixth Circuit affirmed, and the Supreme Court denied certiorari. The Supreme Court subsequently decided "Martinez," permitting ineffective assistance of counsel at initial-review collateral proceedings to establish cause for a prisoner’s procedural default of an ineffective assistance claim at trial. Zagorski sought post-judgment relief under FRCP 60(b)(6), which grants courts equitable power to vacate judgments “to achieve substantial justice” in the most “unusual and extreme situations.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, “giving due deference to the district court’s discretion in balancing the equities” and noting that, given the overwhelming evidence, a more thorough investigation of another suspect would not have reasonably been likely to affect the outcome. View "Zagorski v. Mays" on Justia Law

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During her freshman and his junior year at the University of Michigan, John and Jane met at a fraternity party, drank, danced, and eventually had sex. Two days later, Roe filed a sexual misconduct complaint, claiming that she was too drunk to consent. For three months, the school’s investigator collected evidence and interviewed John, Jane, and 23 others. John stated that Jane did not appear drunk, that she was an active participant in their sexual encounter, and that he had no reason to believe that his sexual advances were unwelcome. Jane claimed that she was drunk and told Doe “no sex” before she “flopped” onto his bed. Almost all of the male witnesses corroborated John’s story; all of the female witnesses corroborated Jane’s. The investigator concluded that the evidence supporting a finding of sexual misconduct was not more convincing than the evidence offered in opposition and recommended closing the case. The Appeals Board held closed sessions (without considering new evidence or interviewing any students), and reversed, finding Jane’s narrative “more credible” and her witnesses more persuasive. Facing possible expulsion, John agreed to withdraw from the university, 13.5 credits short of graduating. The Sixth Circuit reversed the dismissal of John’s suit against the University. If a public university has to choose between competing narratives to resolve a case, it must give the accused student an opportunity to cross-examine the accuser and adverse witnesses in the presence of a neutral fact-finder. View "Doe v. Baum" on Justia Law

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L.H. has Down Syndrome. Through second grade, L.H. was “mainstreamed,” i.e., educated in the standard Normal Park School setting, integrated with non-disabled grade-level peers, and taught the standard curriculum, with special supports and services. An “IEP team” comprising his parents, teachers, and staff, prepared an annual “individualized education program” (IEP). L.H. made progress academically but did not keep pace with his peers. Staff members suggested moving L.H. to a Comprehensive Development Classroom (CDC) at a different school. L.H.’s parents resisted. L.H. remained at Normal Park. Teachers reported that L.H.’s behavior became disruptive; they changed his curriculum and attempted to minimize distractions by isolating L.H. L.H.’s behavior improved but progress toward his goals did not. Over his parents’ objections, L.H.’s 2013-2014 (third grade) IEP unilaterally ordered L.H. transferred to the CDC, where the curriculum uses an online special-education program (ULS) to teach reading and math. ULS follows Common CORE standards but is not peer-reviewed nor is it tied to Tennessee’s general-education standards. The CDC had two teachers and nine students. There would be little interaction between disabled and non-disabled students. L.H.’s parents rejected the IEP and enrolled L.H. at a private school, where he has remained. They sued under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400. The district court held that placement of L.H. in the segregated classroom was more restrictive than necessary and violated the IDEA, but that the parents’ alternative placement did not satisfy the IDEA. The Sixth Circuit affirmed that the CDC placement violated the IDEA, but concluded that the private placement did satisfy the IDEA, and remanded for a determination of reimbursement. The Normal Park teachers were openly unwilling to properly mainstream L.H., rather than removing him when it became challenging. View "L. H. v. Hamilton County Department of Education" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law

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School superintendent Groening had surgery that required six weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2612(a), leave. She returned to work part-time. Her mother then fell ill. Groening took intermittent leave to care for her throughout the rest of that year. A school board member told Groening that the district spent "too much time” working around Groening’s schedule. The board president told a colleague that Groening’s time away would be reflected in her annual evaluation. The board asked Groening for a breakdown of her leave. Groening created a spreadsheet. Between her leave, vacation, and business trips, Groening had been away for 12 weeks. The board indicated that it was hesitant to approve an upcoming conference. Groening submitted her notice of retirement, effective at the end of the following school year. The board then audited the business office, directing the auditors to review the method for tracking administrators’ time off. Groening was to be paid for unpaid leave when she retired, so any discrepancies had to be addressed before her retirement. Groening resigned the day before the auditors submitted their report. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of her FMLA claims. Groening's claims fell far short of showing constructive discharge. Groening failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether her working conditions were objectively intolerable. The audit was not an adverse employment action. View "Groening v. Glen Lake Community Schools" on Justia Law

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School superintendent Groening had surgery that required six weeks of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. 2612(a), leave. She returned to work part-time. Her mother then fell ill. Groening took intermittent leave to care for her throughout the rest of that year. A school board member told Groening that the district spent "too much time” working around Groening’s schedule. The board president told a colleague that Groening’s time away would be reflected in her annual evaluation. The board asked Groening for a breakdown of her leave. Groening created a spreadsheet. Between her leave, vacation, and business trips, Groening had been away for 12 weeks. The board indicated that it was hesitant to approve an upcoming conference. Groening submitted her notice of retirement, effective at the end of the following school year. The board then audited the business office, directing the auditors to review the method for tracking administrators’ time off. Groening was to be paid for unpaid leave when she retired, so any discrepancies had to be addressed before her retirement. Groening resigned the day before the auditors submitted their report. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of her FMLA claims. Groening's claims fell far short of showing constructive discharge. Groening failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether her working conditions were objectively intolerable. The audit was not an adverse employment action. View "Groening v. Glen Lake Community Schools" on Justia Law

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John attended a party, drank six beers, then proceeded to a bar and drank more beer and alcohol. He left the bar in the early morning, sufficiently intoxicated that he cannot remember what happened for the remainder of the night. Based on text messages he later found on his cellphone, John knows that he called Jane. The two had engaged in several prior physical encounters. Jane, who had also been drinking, joined John in his bed. According to Jane’s subsequent statement, the two engaged in some consensual sexual acts, but Jane stopped consenting and John continued to engage in non-consensual sexual acts. John was found responsible for violating Miami University’s sexual assault policy and was suspended for four months. John sued Jane, Miami University, and individual University employees. John and Jane reached a settlement. The court dismissed John’s remaining claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of John’s Title IX hostile-environment claim, Title IX deliberate-indifference claim, and 42 U.S.C. 1983 substantive-due-process claim. The court reversed, in part, finding that John sufficiently pleaded procedural-due-process and equal protection claims against one employee based on the claims that she was not an impartial adjudicator and did not fully disclose the evidence against him. The court also reversed a finding of qualified immunity as to that employee and held that John sufficiently pled his Title IX erroneous-outcome claim. View "Doe v. Miami University" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Arise, a Dayton community school (charter school), faced declining enrollment, financial troubles, and scandal after its treasurer was indicted for embezzlement. The school’s sponsor sought a radical change in administration, elevated Arise’s former principal, Floyd, to superintendent, removed all board members, and appointed Floyd’s recommended candidates to the new board. Floyd set up a kickback scheme, using former business partners to form Global Educational Consultants, which contracted with Arise. Global received $420,919 from Arise. While Global was being paid, Arise teachers’ salaries were cut and staff members were not consistently paid. Arise ran out of money and closed in 2010. The FBI investigated and signed a proffer agreement with Ward, the “silent partner” at Global, then indicted Floyd, Arise board members, and Global's owner. They were convicted of federal programs bribery, conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery, and making material false statements, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(B), (a)(2); 18 U.S.C. 371; 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(2). Two African-American jurors reported that they were initially unconvinced; the jury foreperson, a white woman, reportedly told them that she believed they were reluctant to convict because they felt they “owed something” to their “black brothers.” This remark prompted a confrontation, requiring the marshal to intervene.The Sixth Circuit affirmed their convictions, rejecting arguments based on the Supreme Court’s 2017 decision, Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado. Although Pena-Rodriguez permitted, in very limited circumstances, an inquiry into a jury’s deliberations, this case did not fit into those limited circumstances. View "United States v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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Doe met Roe on Tinder. They eventually met in person. Doe invited Roe to his apartment, where the two engaged in sex. Three weeks later, Roe reported to the University of Cincinnati’s Title IX Office that Doe had sexually assaulted her that evening. No physical evidence supports either student’s version. Five months later, UC cited Doe for violating the Student Code of Conduct. UC resolves charges of non-academic misconduct through an Administrative Review Committee hearing process. UC’s Code of Conduct does not require witnesses to be present. If a witness is “unable to attend,” the Code permits him to submit a “notarized statement” to the Committee. After considerable delay, UC held Doe's hearing. Despite Roe’s failure to appear, UC found Doe “responsible” for sexual assault, based upon Roe's previous hearsay statements to investigators. UC suspended Doe for a year after an administrative appeal. Doe argued that the denial of his right to confront his accuser violated his due process rights. In granting a preliminary injunction against Doe’s suspension, the district court found a strong likelihood that Doe would prevail on his constitutional claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Due Process Clause guarantees fundamental fairness to state university students facing long-term exclusion from the educational process. The Committee necessarily made a credibility determination and its failure to provide any form of confrontation of the accuser made the proceeding fundamentally unfair. View "Doe v. University of Cincinnati" on Justia Law

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Crosby, a tenured professor at the University of Kentucky’s College of Public Health, brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law, claiming that his removal as Department Chair amounted to a deprivation of his protected property and liberty interests without due process of law. He claimed that the defendants were not protected by qualified immunity and were liable under contract law for monetary damages. Before his removal, Crosby had been investigated for being “[v]olatile,” “explosive,” “disrespectful,” “very condescending,” and “out of control.” The report included an allegation that Crosby stated that the Associate Dean for Research had been appointed “because she is a woman, genitalia” and contained claims that the Department’s performance was suffering as a result of Crosby’s temper and hostility toward other departments. The University declined Crosby’s request to handle his appeal under a proposed Governing Regulation and stated that existing regulations would apply. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of his claims.Crosby identified no statute, formal contract, or contract implied from the circumstances that supports his claim to a protected property interest in his position as Chair; “the unlawfulness” of the defendants’ actions was not apparent “in the light of pre-existing law,” so they were entitled to qualified immunity. View "Crosby v. University of Kentucky" on Justia Law