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Texas district suing city over police substation present on district property – asking to order city to pay rent or vacate premises

KRGV.com reports that Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent School District (RGCISD) has filed suit against Rio Grande City over the presence of a police substation on school district property. RGCISD asserts that the city should either pay rent or vacate the premises. The city counters that it should not have to do either.

Currently, the city pays only $1 a year. Mayor Joel Villarreal said the agreement was made between the city and the federal government 12 years ago. The U.S. Border Patrol transferred the lease it had with the school district to the city on the condition they use the property for law enforcement purposes.

Villareal says the 2004 document shows that the city and the school district have a long standing agreement. He added, “So now coming to today, why should I agree to pay $3,000-$4,000 a month where I have this property for a dollar? It just makes no sense to me, no fiscal sense.”

RGCISD, on the other hand, argues that the property transfer was not done properly. School board President Daniel Garcia said as owners the school district has the right to get compensated for leasing out the property. “…I don’t think the city would enter into any agreements where the district would be allowed to use part of their wing or you know any of the facilities for a dollar…I think we just want something reasonable and fair for the district,” said Garcia.

Mediation proved unsuccessful. Garcia said if the school district and city can’t come to an agreement, the district will seek legal action to get their property back.

Source: KRGV.com, 7/27/16, By Staff

[Editor’s Note: In July 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Jewish Week reporting that a ruling by New York State Education Commissioner John King meant that Yeshivat Avir Yakov, a chasidic school, was no longer permitted to lease the former Hillcrest Elementary School building from the East Ramapo Central School District at below-market prices. In upholding a petition filed against the school district and annulling the lease, King said, “I cannot find, on this record, that the [School] Board took reasonable steps to ensure that it was getting the best deal possible.”]


U.S. Dep’t of ED issues guidance on assisting homeless students through ESSA

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has issued guidance on providing assistance to homeless students through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), reports Politico. ESSA reauthorized the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youths program. The department also points out that homeless students face significant academic and socio-emotional issues, including an increased risk of dropping out of school.

The new law requires states and districts to calculate graduation rates for homeless students for the first time ever, starting this school year. Other new requirements taking effect this fall include: ensuring that preschool-aged homeless children have access to support services, protecting the privacy of information about a student’s living situation, and providing homeless students with transportation to and from their “school of origin” until the end of the school year.

School of origin is defined as “the school that the child or youth attended when permanently housed or the school in which the child or youth was last enrolled.” That definition has been expanded under ESSA to include preschools.

According to ED Secretary John B. King Jr., “As a kid, home was a scary and unpredictable place for me and I moved around a lot after my parents passed away. I know from my own experience and from my conversations with homeless students that school can save lives. It is our hope that the guidance we are releasing today will serve as a tool to help states and districts better serve homeless children and youth — we can and we must do better.”

Source: Politico, 7/27/16, By Michael Stratford

[Editor’s Note: In ED’s press release announcing publication of the guidance, it states:

The guidance released today helps states, districts, and local partners understand the new provisions, which take effect October 1, 2016. Among other changes, the amended McKinney-Vento Act includes new requirements focused on:

  • Identification of homeless children and youths;
  • Making sure that preschool-aged homeless children have access to and receive supportive services;
  • Ensuring coordination with other service providers, including public and private child welfare and social service agencies; law enforcement agencies; juvenile and family courts; agencies providing mental health services; domestic violence agencies; child care providers; runaway and homeless youth centers; providers of services and programs funded under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act; and providers of emergency, transitional, and permanent housing, including public housing agencies, shelter operators, and operators of transitional housing facilities;
  • Providing professional development and technical assistance at both the State and local levels;
  • Removing enrollment barriers;
  • Providing school stability, including the expansion of school of origin to include preschools and receiving schools and the provision of transportation until the end of the school year, even if a student becomes permanently housed;
  • Protecting privacy of student records, including information about a homeless child or youth’s living situation;
  • Improving the dispute resolution process for decisions relating to the educational placement of homeless children and youths;
  • Increasing the emphasis on college and career readiness; and
  • Establishing a new authority for local liaisons to verify the eligibility of homeless children, youths, and families for HUD homeless assistance programs.

The guidance states

This revised non-regulatory guidance for the McKinney-Vento program replaces the July 2004 guidance and includes new questions that reflect both the amendments to the McKinney-Vento Act made by the ESSA, which take effect on October 1, 2016,9 and new technical assistance on promising practices for implementing homeless education requirements at the State and local levels. The guidance describes the requirements of the new statute and provides recommendations for addressing many of those requirements.]


Sua Sponte: U.S. Dep’t of ED issues guidance on providing ADHD students with equal education opportunities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

The U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued guidance clarifying the obligation of schools to provide students who have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with equal educational opportunities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In OCR’s press release announcing publication of the guidance, Catherine E. Lhamon, ED assistant secretary for civil rights, said, “On this 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I am pleased to honor Congress’ promise with guidance clarifying the rights of students with ADHD in our nation’s schools. The Department will continue to work with the education community to ensure that students with ADHD, and all students, are provided with equal access to education.”

The guidance provides a broad overview of Section 504 and school districts’ obligations to provide educational services to students with disabilities, including students with ADHD. The guidance also:

  • Explains that schools must evaluate a student when a student needs or is believed to need special education or related services.
  • Discusses the obligation to provide services based on students’ specific needs and not based on generalizations about disabilities, or ADHD, in particular. For example, the guidance makes clear that schools must not rely on the generalization that students who perform well academically cannot also be substantially limited in major life activities, such as reading, learning, writing and thinking; and that such a student can, in fact, be a person with a disability.
  • Clarifies that students who experience behavioral challenges, or present as unfocused or distractible, could have ADHD and may need an evaluation to determine their educational needs.
  • Reminds schools that they must provide parents and guardians with due process and allow them to appeal decisions regarding the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of students with disabilities, including students with ADHD.

Along with the guidance OCR has published a Know Your Rights document that provides a brief overview of schools’ obligations to students with ADHD.

Sua Sponte: Attorneys for transgender student in Virginia file response opposing school board’s emergency petition to U.S. Supreme Court seeking a stay of district court’s preliminary injunction and Fourth Circuit’s April ruling

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia (ACLU-VA), who are representing Gavin Grimm, the transgender student suing Gloucester County School Board (GCSB), have filed a response to GCSB’s emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court opposing the school board’s request for a stay of the district court’s preliminary injunction allowing Grimm to use the boys’ restroom at school and a stay of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s April decision requiring the district court to give Auer deference to the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Justice’s (DOJ) interpretation of Title IX as applying to gender identity. The opening salvo in the ACLU-VA brief in opposition states: “The Board has utterly failed to demonstrate that it will suffer irreparable harm if G.—and only G.—is allowed to use the boys’ restroom at Gloucester High School while this Court considers the Board’s forthcoming petition for certiorari.”

ACLU-VA’s brief makes three arguments in asking the Supreme Court to deny GCSB’s petition. First, it states that GCSB has failed to identify any form of irreparable harm. Second, the brief argues that GCSB has failed to show that there is a reasonable probability that its petition for certiorari will be granted by the Court. Finally, the brief contends that GCSB has not shown a fair prospect of reversal of the Fourth Circuit panel’s April decision. The third argument is broken down into three sub-arguments: (1) The term “sex” in Title IX encompasses all the “morphological, physiological and behavioral” components of an individual’s sex; (2) The only way to reconcile 34 C.F.R. § 106.33 with the underlying requirements of Title IX is to allow transgender students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity; and (3) The Fourth Circuit appropriately deferred to the department’s reasonable interpretation of its own regulation.

Commenting on ACLU-VA’s brief, Amy Howe of SCOTUSblog said:

The Chief Justice can rule on the school board’s request on his own, or he could refer the application to the whole Court. Even if the Court does not step in now to block the lower courts’ rulings, though, the issue of transgender bathrooms could be back before the Justices again soon, after either a final ruling in this case or decisions in other cases pending around the country that raise similar issues.

On July 14, 2016, Legal Clips published a Sua Sponte item reporting that GCSB had filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court, which was directed to Chief Justice John Roberts, who is Circuit Justice for the Fourth Circuit. The emergency petition argues that both the Fourth Circuit decision that overturned a district judge’s ruling against the transgender student and the later injunction must be stayed “in order to avoid irreparable harm to the board, to the school system, and to the legitimate privacy expectations of the district’s schoolchildren and parents alike.”

Former board member and retired school counselor take on Wisconsin district being sued over banning transgender student from using boys’ restroom

According to the Kenosha News, Kyle Flood, a former member of Kenosha Unified School District’s (KUSD) board, has requested that the school board place transgender student Ash Whitaker’s lawsuit on the annual meeting agenda for September. Flood was joined by Gayle Clark-Taylor, a retired KUSD elementary school counselor, in making the request at a recent school board meeting.

Flood said putting the lawsuit on the annual meeting agenda would allow the public to direct the board’s action regarding the lawsuit. “This must be up to the people of Kenosha,” Flood told the board.

Clark-Taylor cited the youthful age of high school students in arguing against a proposed provision that would require students themselves to apply to the district for recognition of their transgender status. “Their parents have to do that for them,” she said, adding that, in making a decision to change gender identity, “no one goes through this lightly.” Making a decision to protect everyone else from discomfort “is not protecting the student,” Clark-Taylor said.

However, school board member Gary Kunich took issue with comments leveled at the board, saying the board will work diligently toward crafting a policy that will be fair to students. In addition, he called the allegation that Whitaker was to wear a green wristband “flat-out wrong” and a false accusation. “It never happened,” Kunich said. “Consistently, this administration has done all it can do for all students,” Kunich said. The same goes for the board, he added. “I cannot fathom anyone on this board … that says, ‘We’re going to intrude on somebody’s rights.’”

Kunich criticized Flood for indirectly comparing tactics used by the Nazis in World War II to anything happening in the district, particularly regarding the transgender issues. Board members Rebecca Stevens and Mike Falkofske said they were confident that the board would develop a policy that will be mutually beneficial to all students.

Source: Kenosha News, 7/26/16, By Bill Guida

[Editor’s Note: In July 2016, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Washington Post reporting that Ash Whitaker, rising senior at Tremper High School in Wisconsin, alleges that KUSD violated his civil rights by refusing to treat him as a male, including requiring him to use the girls’ restroom or a single-occupancy restroom, directing security guards to monitor his restroom usage, and repeatedly using his birth name and female pronouns to refer to him.]


Non-Spanish speaking teacher files discrimination suit against Florida district after being rejected for teaching position that requires 1 hour of foreign language instruction per day

The Miami New Times reports that Tracy Rosner, a white teacher at Coral Reef Elementary School, has filed suit in federal court against the Miami-Dade School Board claiming race-based discrimination. Rosner alleges that her request to be assigned to the extended foreign language (EFL) program, where students receive one hour of foreign language instruction per day, was denied solely on the basis that she is non-Spanish speaking.

Rosner contends that the principal had an “unfair” policy of requiring foreign language teachers to actually speak the language they were teaching. Rosner claims that she was “otherwise fully qualified” for the job and that the policy is discriminatory. Her complaint says the school could have given her the job and then just had someone else teach the foreign language component for one hour per day.

Rosner’s suit alleges the school’s principal retaliated by doubling her workload and asking her to teach all the subjects instead of just reading and language arts. Rosner apparently complained to the superintendent and even made a formal complaint to the school district’s civil rights office, but administrators there found no probable cause and closed the case.

The lawsuit also claims that non-Spanish speakers are a minority population in Miami-Dade County and that seeking employment solely from Spanish speakers “disproportionately affects” Rosner and others like her. “As a direct and proximate result of the retaliation against Ms. Rosner, and the violation of her rights… Ms. Rosner was provided a less desirable position and has damages including emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, [and] loss of enjoyment of life,” the lawsuit states.

Source: Miami New Times, 7/25/16, By Jessica Lipscomb

[Editor’s Note: In June 2016, Legal Clips summarized a story from New Jersey 101.5 reporting that the Perth Amboy Board of Education (PABOE) had agreed to pay a total of $218,500 to settle two employment discrimination suits. In both cases the former employees claimed they were terminated because they were not Hispanic. Former Human Resource Manager Bernice Marshall, who is African-American, and former Transportation Manager Edmund Treadaway, who is white, filed lawsuits in Superior Court in New Brunswick in 2014. In November 2015, Marshall and PABOE agreed to a $170,000 confidential settlement to drop the lawsuit, while Treadaway agreed to drop his lawsuit for $48,500.]

Maryland district creates committee to study possible changes to policies related to restroom and locker room access, student records, dress codes, overnight field trips, athletics, and school extracurricular activities to address Title IX concerns in light of federal guidance on accommodating transgender students

The Carroll County Times reports that Carroll County Public Schools (CCPS) Superintendent Stephen Guthrie announced at a recent school board meeting that a committee had been formed to look at current school policy and how that policy conforms with Title IX. The committee is split into six subcommittees.

The committee’s purpose is to study CCPS’ practices and policies in light of the joint guidance issued by the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ). The document, referenced now as the “Dear Colleague” letter, outlined what it termed “significant guidance” for public schools to allow students to use restrooms that correspond to their gender identity or risk losing federal funding.

While transgender students may have been the catalyst for the “Dear Colleague” letter, many on the committee have stated their intent to work to emphasize a safe environment, which is free from stigmatization for all students. “The idea is that we want to make sure we’re a welcoming environment and a fair environment for all students,” Kim Dolch, chair of the dress code subcommittee and director of high schools, said.

The subcommittee that is likely to be viewed as the most controversial and receive the most pushback is the one dealing with restrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms. To ensure compliance with Title IX, the subcommittee discussed the possibility of creating privacy in locker rooms, as well as other changing area options.

But to remove the possibility of stigma, these options would be open and available to any student who chooses to use them, be it someone who is transgender, has a medical condition, is shy or is uncomfortable changing in front of other students for any other reason. The option of different schedules — allowing a student to change a few minutes before or after other students — was also discussed.

Regarding bathrooms, the subcommittee also focused on giving all students multiple options. Adding privacy dividers, like stalls, around urinals is a possible option that was mentioned. Also discussed was having unisex individual bathrooms and making sure all facilities have working, lockable doors on stalls.

If the school board chooses to implement some or all of the recommendations, changes requiring construction could not be immediate, said Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Steve Johnson, who is in charge of the full committee. The money for such projects would come from the school system budget.

The six subcommittees must deal with different aspects of how their recommendations would affect schools. The subcommittees, by topic, include: restrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms; overnight field trips, performing arts uniforms and career and technology education uniforms; student dress codes, graduation traditions, and proms and school dances; student records, names, and pronouns; athletics and team locker rooms, and athletic handbooks; and general policies.

The subcommittee looking at the dress code, proms, dances and graduation has already met twice. The second meeting, which lasted approximately 90-minutes, tackled aspects such as the long-standing tradition of two robe colors at graduation.

That subcommittee’s members also discussed spirit days, and making sure not to allow themes that enforce gender stereotypes, such as boys dressing like girls and girls dressing like boys. Their focus revolved around rules that are gender neutral. For example, the dress code would apply to all students and not be dependent on gender or other factors.

But recommendations would also apply to activities like dances and proms, where there would be rules for clothing items, but not rules designating clothing items to certain groups. Final recommendations from all subcommittees have an Aug. 22 deadline and are expected to come before the school board during the September board meeting.

Source: Carroll County Times, 7/23/16, By Emily Chappell

[Editor’s Note: In July 2016, Legal Clips summarized an article in Reston Now reporting that Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) board had cancelled its upcoming meeting to discuss the school district’s new transgender regulations and will temporarily suspend implementation of the regulations. According to FCPS, the purpose of the regulations is to establish procedures and guidelines for schools to support gender non-conforming and transgender students that are in-line with policy and legal requirements.]

Disabled students at an elite academy in a Florida school district sue alleging that school employees harassed and discriminated against them because of their disability

According to Miami New Times, three students, who are triplets suffering from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), have filed suit against Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) claiming school officials at the Marine Academy of Science and Technology at Florida International University (MAST@FIU) have harassed and discriminated against them because of their disability. The suit alleges that MAST@FIU officials routinely refused to accommodate their severe attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and would not let them record an audiotape of their lessons to listen to later.

The students contend they were routinely harassed for simply trying to get their basic needs met. For example, when one of them tried to leave class to attend an annual disability meeting, the suit says, a teacher forced him to walk through the hallways with a large sign around his neck reading, “I am missing out on an important educational opportunity for this frivolous errand.”

The suit states that even though the school is required to adhere to the students’ individualized education plans (IEP), it refused to let the students use IEP-mandated computer tablets or record their lectures, which is when their parents hired a lawyer and filed a due process claim with the state.

In response, the suit alleges, MAST@FIU teachers “bad-mouthed them; delayed or denied requests for assessments or evaluations; delayed requests for meetings; likely fabricated or created after the fact documentation to support their [the teachers’] case; and targeted the students which made them feel degraded and unwanted at MAST@FIU.”

MDCPS spokesman  John Schuster, responding to the allegations, stated:

Miami-Dade County Public Schools takes seriously any matter that does not honor and protect the well-being and dignity of our students. Our staff spends a great deal of time working to ensure that all students receive complete services to which they are entitled. This complaint, however, presents allegations which are in dispute. Since there is pending litigation, we are unable to provide further comment.

Source; Miami New Times, 7/22/16, By Jerry Iannelli

[Editor’s Note: In April 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Courier-Post reporting that a disabled student had sued the Haddon Heights school district alleging that its attendance policy discriminates against students with disabilities. The policy requires students to repeat a grade if they miss more than 33 days of school, even if the absences are excused.]


Teachers union’s suit claims Florida district has ignored its request for documents regarding employee discipline in violation of state’s open records laws

The Orlando Sentinel reports that the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association (OCCTA) has filed suit in Orange County Circuit Court against Orange County School District (OCSD), claiming the school district is violating Florida’s open records law by refusing the union’s request for documents related to employee discipline. The suit alleges that OCSD has ignored two documents from the union.

Florida’s Constitution allows people to inspect public records unless they are otherwise exempted by state law. Agencies must acknowledge requests or cite a specific part of the law if they deny requests. State laws do not specify a time limit for agencies to respond to requests but say they must be responded to within a “reasonable” period of time.

According to Mark Mitchell, OCCTA’s executive director, the union has experienced significant delays in the past in obtaining records from OCSD. “It’ll go on for weeks, and the responses we get are incomplete,” Mitchell said. “They count on us having fatigue and moving onto the next issue.” He said the union typically gets some response from the district, but received nothing after it requested documents related to investigations into two employees earlier this year.

The suit states that the union requested all records related to investigations into alleged misconduct by Kimberly Ferraro and Robert Mallard. It alleges that OCSD did not respond to the requests, submitted on Feb. 15.

The suit also claims OCCTA requested, for instructional employees, all internal reporting forms used to describe accusations against employees, if they are deemed guilty of misconduct, for the period of time between January 4th and April 29th. According to the suit, a school district employee responded in an email saying that it would take more than 10 hours to respond to the request, at a total cost of $163.90. And that might not be the full cost because after the union paid the initial fee and the district reviewed the documents, the district would provide an estimate for the cost of redacting exempt information from the records.

The union views the added hurdle as “ostensibly a denial of records.” By filing a lawsuit, Mitchell said he hopes the district will take public requests seriously in the future. “We’re hoping by filing this action, we’ll move public records requests into the realm of what’s important,” Mitchell said.

Until recently, the district also kept terminations and other disciplinary matters from public view when they came before the school board, even though open-government advocates say that approach may be problematic and that other Central Florida districts listed such actions openly. The district now posts terminations on the board’s website.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, 7/15/16, By Annie Martin

[Editor’s Note: In April 2016, Legal Clips summarized an article from AL.com reporting that Huntsville Education Association (HEA) had filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court against Huntsville City Schools (HCS) after the school district denied HEA’s open records request for a copy of the list of “ineffective teachers” that was presented to principals in 2015. According to HEA, HCS violated state law in developing a new policy for evaluating teachers without consulting with the union.]


Florida district seeking dismissal of suit alleging district is denying immigrant students equal educational opportunities

According to the Naples Daily News, Collier County school officials have filed a motion seeking dismissal of a lawsuit that claims the district is denying some immigrant students enrollment. The school district insists it treats all students equally. The motion to dismiss the suit argues that the three teenagers identified in the lawsuit were not qualified to attend high school.

The district also contends that treating the children differently because of language deficiencies would give them preferential consideration over others. “Plaintiffs appear to be asking this court to order the school district to admit to regular high school persons who are academically unqualified,” the motion states.

The lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of the parents and a guardian of three minors who were denied enrollment in Immokalee High School when they were 16 or a few days short of being 16. The lawsuit said the policy was approved and set in force as the number of immigrant minors arriving in the U.S. increased.

The district argues in its motion that children must meet Florida academic standards for admission to high school and meet school board policy requiring them to complete high school by 19. The motion says Florida laws don’t grant or require free public education to children over 16 and have allowed local school boards to set the cut-off age for attendance in public schools. The district’s “age out” policy, the motion states, doesn’t take into account national origin or English language skills.

The motion argues that the Equal Educational Opportunities Act ensures appropriate treatment, but not preferential treatment based on national origin or English language deficiencies. Federal law grants states and local authorities latitude to design and implement English language learners’ programs, so even if the allegations of the complaint are true, the school board was free to send what it considers to be adult students with language deficiencies to adult English language education programs.

Courts have ruled that the Equal Educational Opportunities Act only requires that a state take appropriate action to overcome language barriers, without specifying the particular actions a state may take, the motion says. The courts have also said that school districts and not courts should judge whether a program is appropriate for students, the motion argues.

Source; Naples Daily News, 7/19/16, By Maria Perez

[Editor’s Note: In May 2016, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Naples Daily News reporting that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) had filed suit in federal court against Collier County school district claiming the school district is denying immigrant students access to a public education and discriminating against those with limited English skills. SPLC’s complaint contends the school district violated several federal and state laws by refusing to enroll immigrant students in Collier County public high school, instead sending them to non-credit, English Language-only adult education programs that charge a fee.]


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