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Service dogs in classroom present challenge for districts in New York state

School districts in New York state are confronting the issues that come with service dogs in the classroom, says silive.com.  For example, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDE) acknowledges it must follow the law and make accommodations for a child with special needs whose individual education plan (IEP) requires the child have a service dog in class. It, however, has no policy for how teachers and administrators should handle the animal during the school day.

Among the challenges that service dogs present:

Who cares for the dog during the school day?

Who is responsible for feeding and walking the dog?

What happens if another child is allergic to the dog?

What happens if the dog becomes aggressive toward another child or teacher?

According to the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), these questions are a gray area for administrators. NYSSBA has recently issued a brief on the issue.

The brief states:

Service animals can help people with a variety of disabilities, such as hearing impairments, physical handicaps and sight impairments. Service animals often develop strong bonds with their owners, and a student with a disability may request the companionship of his or her service animal in school. However. . . the presence of the animal could trigger allergic reactions or anxiety among other students, some of whom may also have a disability and rights under law. Therefore, a student who requests the presence of a service animal in school presents a complicated issue that requires legal counsel.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Disability Rights section, service animals are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines also say that “allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals.” Under the guidelines, service dogs must also be “leashed, harnessed or tethered,” and “staff is not required to provide care and food for the animal.”

While the NYCDE is required to comply with the determined need for a service dog, “therapy” or “comfort” animals are not covered by the same federal regulations. While they sometimes can be both, therapy dogs are usually not assistance or service animals.

Source: silive.com, 8/27/15, By Diane C. Lore

[Editor’s Note: NYSSBA’s “Service animals in schools: Recommendations for school districts,” points out that while service dogs may have a positive effect on a disabled student, “a service animal may not be necessary for a student’s success in school, and reliance on the animal could interfere with the student’s ability to develop skills of independence.”

In September 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Athens Messenger reporting that Athens City School District had come to an agreement with the parents of an autistic student, who uses a service dog, as to the student’s placement. The student was barred from attending the Morrison-Gordon Elementary School because of a teacher’s severe allergy to dogs.

Also in September 2013, Legal Clips summarized an Associated Press (AP) article in the San Francisco Chronicle reporting that the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana (ACLU-IN) had filed suit in federal court against the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation (ECSC) on behalf of two disabled students over a policy that restricts the use of service dogs in school. The suit was seeking a preliminary injunction to admit the service dogs, alleging that barring the animals violated the ADA.] 

ACLU letter warns Nebraska district not to require employees to sign loyalty oath

According to the Nebraska Radio Network,  the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska (ACLU-NE) has sent the Hastings Public School District (HPSD) a letter warning the school district that it cannot compel its employees to sign a loyalty oath. The oath is required by state law and currently being enforced by HPSD.

Under the state law, teachers must pledge that they believe in the United States of America and that they acknowledge a duty to teach students that its policies and institutions make it the finest country in the world. The ACLU-NE’s letter says that despite the state law requiring the oath, the United States Supreme Court has ruled employees cannot be forced to sign such pledges.

HPSD Superintendent Craig Kautz insists that the district is simply complying with state law and that the district’s attorney advises it is still valid. However, Kautz says no teacher will lose their job for declining to sign the pledge.

ACLU-NE attorney Amy Miller says a number of teachers have complained about the requirement. In her letter to HPSD, Miller wrote that employees love their jobs, but “they have deeply held beliefs that do not permit them to sign an outdated McCarthy era pledge.”

This is the first year HPSD has asked employees to sign the pledge.

Source: Nebraska Radio Network, 8/17/15, By Brent Martin

[Editor’s Note: In Baggett v. Bulitt, 377 U.S. 360 (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court held that Washington state statutes requiring teachers and state employees to take loyalty oaths as a condition of employment were unconstitutionally vague.]

Iowa court dismisses student’s suit claiming district violated his free speech rights when it disciplined him for posting “racially charged” tweet

The Times-Republican reports Marshall County District Court Judge Michael Moon has  dismissed a suit  brought by former Marshalltown High School (MHS) student Jordan Smith against Marshalltown Community School District (MCSD). Smith’s suit alleged MCSD violated his free speech rights under Iowa Code and the Iowa Constitution when it suspended him from playing in three athletic games because he posted a “racially charged” tweet.

The tweet in question said, “I scored two goals for the white boys tonight  #WP.” His  football coach, Aaron Shipley, viewed the message Smith posted on Smith’s Twitter account. Smith’s profile was a photograph depicting him and two MHS students dressed in white. The students made a gesture with their hands in the shape of the letter “W.”

The photograph of Smith was taken on school grounds in May 2014. That day, MHS hosted a spirit day where all students were encouraged to wear white attire.

The meaning of the gesture and message were contested throughout Smith’s July trial. School administrators alleged each referenced “white power.” Smith testified the gesture referred to the color day. While explaining to the court the meaning of his message, Smith, a soccer player, said he used the term “white boys” because people of other races referred to the white players on the soccer team using that label.

Smith sought a declaratory judgment from the court, stating he did not violate the school district’s good conduct policy, which administrators cited in their decision to suspend Smith from athletic participation. In his ruling, Judge Moon noted that school administrators have the authority to circumscribe speech in Iowa schools if they have reason to believe the speech would encourage students to violate lawful school regulations or causes material and substantial disruption.

The judge pointed to the significance of previous racially charged incidents that heightened tension at MHS and in Marshalltown. he added that context matters. “Those incidents, together with the tension existing in the school, provided a reasonable context for administrators to anticipate and forecast future disruptions and to permit them to take necessary precautions,” he said. “School administrators were sensitive to any comment, post, T-shirt, symbol or other manifestation of racial bigotry that could act as a spark to ignite violence in the school.”

In Smith’s case, administrators’ actions were appropriate, Moon said.

Source: Times-Republican, 8/27/15, By Bennet Goldstein

[Editor’s Note: In August 2015, Legal Clips summarized a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, sitting en banc, in Bell v. Itawamba Cnty. Sch. Bd. holding that a Mississippi district did not violate a student’s First Amendment free speech rights when school officials disciplined the student for a video he created and posted online off-campus that contained threatening language directed at two teachers/coaches. The majority’s opinion (there were a number of concurring and dissenting opinions) held that the substantial disruption standard enunciated in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 514 (1969), was controlling even though the student speech in question took place off-campus. Because it determined that the speech was subject to regulation by school officials under Tinker, the majority declined to reach the issue of whether the student could be disciplined based on his speech constituting a “true threat.” ]

Disability advocacy groups file class action suit against Philadelphia district on behalf of limited English proficiency parents of disabled students

According to philly.com, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILC-PA), the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP have filed a class action suit in federal court against the Philadelphia school district claiming that thousands of parents and their children are illegally denied the opportunity to participate in the special-education process because of limited English ability. The suit alleges, “The District has systematically and with deliberate indifference denied essential translation and interpretation services to LEP [Limited English Proficient] parents of children with disabilities as well as to the children themselves.”

The suit alleges that the school district refuses to sufficiently interpret or provide parents with translated documents in a timely manner. This prevents parents “from participating in meetings and making informed decisions regarding educational placements and services.” Among the facts alleged in the suit:

25,990 families in the district don’t speak English as their first language; About 19,000 of those families have told the district they want their documents in their native language; and, About 1,500 English language learners received special-education services in 2013, along with 1,887 students with Individual Learning Plans who lived in homes where English was not the primary language.

Source: philly.com, 8/25/15, By Regina Medina

[Editor’s Note: PILC-PA’s legal complaint contains five counts alleging violation of federal law.] 

 

 

Study says African-American students in 13 southern states are disciplined at higher rates than white students

The University of Pennsylvania has published a study that reports that schools in 13 southern states suspend and expel African-American students at higher rates than white students, says NPR. According to the study from the University’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education (CSREE), schools in those states were responsible for more than half of all suspensions and exclusions of black students nationwide. The 13 states named in the study are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

Researchers examined more than 3,000 school districts in those states. In 132 of those districts, they found, the suspension and expulsion rates of blacks were off the charts, with suspension rates far greater than their representation in the student body. Shaun Harper, co-author of the study, said, “Blacks are only 24 percent of students enrolled in public schools in those states, yet they are 48 percent of students suspended, 49 percent of students expelled.” He added, “There are 84 districts where blacks were 100 percent of students suspended from school.”

The new study is not the first to document such disparities. Other researchers have argued that schools use zero-tolerance discipline policies to, in effect, criminalize misdeeds such as dress code violations or talking back to a teacher.

Source: NPR, 8/25/15, By Claudio Sanchez

[Editor’s Note: In the executive summary of the CSREE study, titled Disproportionate Impact K-12 School Suspension and Expulsion on Black Students in Southern States,  it states:

Boys were 65% of Black students suspended from K-12 public schools in the 13 southern states. Despite this, when compared to girls from other racial/ethnic groups, Black girls were severely and most disproportionately affected by school discipline policies and practices.

Nationally, Blacks were 45% of girls suspended and 42% of girls expelled from K-12 public schools, which was highest among all racial/ethnic groups. Across the Southern states, Black girls comprised 56% of suspensions and 45% of expulsions, both of which were also highest among all girls. In 10 Southern states, Blacks were suspended most often among girls.

In October 2010, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Palm Beach Post reporting that a national study ranked Palm Beach County No. 1 among 18 large, urban school districts in frequency of suspensions of black male middle school students. The study, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, reviewed statistics from the year 2006, finding that the school district suspended 53% of its black male middle school students at least once in that year. 

In March 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article The Chronicle reporting that the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) had issued its first report in almost 15 years examining civil rights data from public schools nationwide, says The Chronicle.  The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) from the 2011-12 school year compiled data from all 97,000 of the nation’s public schools and its 16,500 school districts – representing 49 million students.

The report was unveiled jointly by ED Secretary Arne Duncan and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder noted, “This critical report shows that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well-documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool.”  He added, “Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed. This Administration is moving aggressively to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in order to ensure that all of our young people have equal educational opportunities.”] 

New York City Public Advocate files suit against city’s Department of Education alleging that temperatures on special education buses dangerously high

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James has filed suit against  the New York City Department of Education (NYCDE), says CBS New York, alleging that interior temperatures on school  buses carrying special education students are dangerously hot. The suit demands that private contractors be fined if they don’t follow the air-conditioning rules.

According to New York City code, “any bus… transporting a child with a disability to and from a school in the city… shall be air-conditioned when the ambient outside temperature exceeds seventy degrees Fahrenheit.”

City law imposes fines on bus companies that do not comply, but James said the city is not imposing them. “I need DOE to step up and impose fines and penalties on these providers,” James said. “Part of this is mechanical, and part of this is, unfortunately, just turning a blind eye.”

The school buses transport the disabled students year-round, even in the height of the summer. Parents said they have done their own readings, and the temperatures in the buses can get up to 91 degrees Fahrenheit.

NYCDE said 86% of its buses have air conditioning, and it is working on 100% compliance.  It stressed that the standard is that every child whose individual education plan requires air conditioning must receive it. The department said it will correct any problems parents bring to their attention.

Source: CBS New York, 8/19/15, By Alex Silverman

[Editor’s Note: In Decemeber 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Washington Post reporting that a federal court had dismissed a 17-year lawsuit over the transportation of D.C. special education students, giving the city final approval to control its own school buses.]

South Dakota legislative committee votes to draft bill to require transgender student-athletes to play on teams based on gender listed on birth certificate

The South Dakota legislature’s High School Activities Association Interim Committee has voted 6-5 to draft a bill that would require transgender high school athletes to apply for activities based on the sex listed on their birth certificate, says the Argus Leader. If enacted this would change the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) policy that currently allows transgender athletes to enroll in sports based on the gender with which they identify.

A similar measure failed in the Legislature last session, though it had support in both chambers. The bill that will be drafted by the state’s Legislative Research Council will come before the committee for approval later this year. If approved, it will go before the full Legislature next session.

The SDHSAA drafted the transgender policy last year after consulting other state’s approaches. No specific case prompted the policy. Currently, transgender students who want to join a sex-specific team or activity must submit a request to the association as well as documents that affirm their gender identity and ensure the student isn’t identifying with a certain gender with a purpose of “gaining an unfair competitive advantage.”

SDHSAA Executive Director Wayne Carney said  that the association hadn’t yet received a transgender athlete request. But he said representatives of school districts had reached out expressing interest about the policy.

Fourteen other states and Washington, D.C. have adopted policies similar to South Dakota’s.

Source: Argus Leader, 8/20/15, By Dana Ferguson

[Editor’s Note: In June 2015, Legal Clips summarized an Associated Press article in the Casper Star Tribune reporting that the SDHSAA was planning to discuss revisions to its transgender student-athlete policy at its board of directors meeting. The new policy contains many of the same provisions as the old rules, which were adopted in June 2015, but offers some changes in response to legislative concerns. Some Republican lawmakers pushed legislation during the 2015 session to void the policy, but the proposals ultimately languished in the Senate after overwhelmingly passing through the House of Representatives.]

 

Data from federal report reveals special education students in Oklahoma disciplined at higher rates

According to Oklahoma Watch, data from a report by the U.S.  Department of Education (ED) shows that special education students attending public school in Oklahoma are disciplined at rates higher than other students. The report reveals that special ed students are more likely than their peers to be suspended, expelled, arrested, handcuffed or paddled. In dozens of schools, special education students are anywhere from two to ten times more likely to be disciplined, the data show.

Data from the ED report shows Oklahoma ranked first in the nation in rates of special education students being expelled from schools. It ranked fourth in corporal punishment of such students, 19th in in-school suspensions, 28th in out-of-school suspensions and 20th in arrests. Some of these reflect Oklahoma’s generally higher rates of discipline. But in each category, the share of special education students who were disciplined was higher than that of the other students.

The percentages statewide aren’t high, but they represent hundreds or thousands of students. For example, 2.1% of special education students in Oklahoma were expelled in 2011-2012, compared with 0.8% of other students. The 2.1% represents 2,099 children. In dozens of schools, the proportions of disciplined special-needs students run anywhere from 40% to 100%, compared with less than 20% for other students.

Some districts stand out. Of the 20 schools with the highest explusion rates in the state, 17 are in Tulsa Public Schools. Each of those schools expelled more than 50% of its special education students. Special education students include those with learning disabilities, autism, development delays and speech and hearing impairments. “The discrimination is just unbelievable toward these kids,” said Traci Cook, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Oklahoma. “They are not getting an education like everyone else.”

Katherine Bishop, vice president of the Oklahoma Education Association, which represents teachers, said most schools are doing a good job with special education students. “We are able to provide our students with mild disabilities and severe and profound disabilities with a solid education … Our schools are doing a great job,” said Bishop, a former special education teacher. She added that more resources are needed to hire special education teachers and provide them training. The federal government has not fully funded special education, an issue that is compounded by the state’s own budget woes, she said.

The state Department of Education said it has provided training to address disparities in discipline, most recently with Oklahoma City Public Schools. “Certainly, the state Department of Education takes seriously allegations of excessive or improper discipline, and we investigate all such cases when they are brought to our attention,” said Rene Axtell, state assistant superintendent of special education.

Source: Oklahoma Watch, 8/20/15, By Nate Robson

[Editor’s Note: In July 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Oklahoman reporting that Oklahoma City Public School district has no plans to roll out a revised code of student conduct before the start of the new school year. The new disciplinary plan addresses glaring inconsistencies in student discipline. Chuck Tompkins, the district’s new director of student discipline and compliance, said it is unclear whether the plan will be in place before the end of the 2015-2016 school year. “I believe it will be implemented at some point this year,” Tompkins said. The policy was heavily criticized at the school board’s recent meeting by the president of the teachers union saying it will result in teachers bearing the burden of of chronic misbehavior.

In May 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Capital New York reporting that Advocates for Children (AC) had settled a class action lawsuit filed more than a decade ago against the New York City Department of Education (NYCDE) on behalf of students with disabilities who were disciplined in city schools. The suit, filed in 2002 during the Bloomberg administration, alleged special needs students were denied legal protections when they were suspended or excluded from school for behavioral reasons.] 

 

Federal district court rules Mississippi district violated terms of consent decree by continuing the practice of advancing and endorsing the Christian religion and coercing students to participate in religious activity

M.B. v. Rankin Cnty. Sch. Dist., No. 13-00241 (S.D.Miss. Jul. 10, 2015)

Abstract: A federal district court in Mississippi has found a school district in contempt for violating the terms of an agreed judgment where the school district promised  to stop practices that resulted in the advancing and endorsing of the Christian religion and coercing students to participate in religious activity. It concluded that the school district had continued to engage in the very practices that led to the lawsuit. Specifically, although the school district was under a court approved consent decree that required its compliance with a “Religion in Public Schools Policy” (Religion Policy), which outlines standards for ensuring that its schools conformed with the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, the court found that the district held a honors convocation at which a Christian minister offered Christian prayer and the district allowed the distribution of Bibles in school.

Facts/Issues: M.B. was a student at Northwest Rankin High School (NRHS). In April 2013, she filed suit against Rankin County School District (RCSD) and NRHS Principal Charles Frazier. The suit challenged the constitutionality of RCSD’s practice of including Christian sermons and prayers in student assemblies.

Specifically, NRHS held a series of “Christian Assemblies” conducted during school hours on April 10, 2013, which proselytized Christianity. “Church Representatives” spoke and a video presentation was shown to students on the topic of “finding hope in Jesus Christ.” M.B. believed that attendance was mandatory.

RCSD eventually admitted to violating M.B.’s First Amendment rights. It adopted a “Religion in Public Schools Policy” (Religion Policy) outlining standards for ensuring that its schools conformed with the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

The district court entered an agreed  judgment incorporating the Religion Policy and ordered the District to comply with that policy. The policy was adopted “to make clear and demonstrate that its policy is to fully comply with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

In May 2014, M.B. filed a Motion to Enforce Consent Decree and Motion for Civil Contempt. The action was triggered by a school assembly held within the District on April 17, 2014, wherein school officials “invited a Christian Reverend to deliver a prayer at a school-sponsored event.” Specifically, RCSD organized and sponsored a district-wide awards ceremony (ACT Ceremony) honoring those students who scored above 22 on their ACT tests. M.B. was one of the honorees. The program was held at Brandon High School during regular school hours. M.B. argued that the District violated the “Consent Decree” by including a Christian minister to offer a prayer as part of the program.

She alleges that RCSD’s actions violated the Establishment Clause and the core elements of the school district’s Religion Policy which mandate that: “school activities conducted during instructional hours should neither advance, endorse or inhibit any religion; should be primarily for secular purposes and should not obligate or coerce any person into participation in a religious activity.”

M.B. also alleged that after she had graduated but while the motion for contempt was still pending, DCSD assisted the Gideons in distributing Bibles at one of its elementary schools.

RCSD contended that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the motion to enforce the consent decree and the motion for contempt on the ground that the court had entered final judgment when it approved the agreed judgement. As a result, RCSD argued that M.B. would have to initiate a new suit raising the ACT ceremony and the Bible distribution as original claims.

In regard to the ACT ceremony claim, RCSD argued: (1) Because the attendance at the ceremony was not mandatory there was no First Amendment violation; (2) any liability arising from a First Amendment violation should be excused since school officials are ill-equipped to understand the complexities of constitutional law; and (3) the principal of NRHS is protected from liability because his mere participation in the ACT Ceremony did not constitute a violation of the agreed judgment.

Responding to the Bible distribution claim, RCSD maintained that disclaimers were placed on the tables from which the Bibles were disseminated.

Ruling/Rationale:  The district court rejected RCSD’s argument that “M.B. had to start from scratch and institute a new civil action.” It concluded that “the instant motion is ‘not an institution of an independent proceeding but is part of the original cause.’” It stated: “A consent order, while founded on the agreement of the parties, is nevertheless a judicial act, enforceable by sanctions including a citation for contempt.” The court, therefore, interpreted “the Agreed Judgment as a consent decree and retains subject matter jurisdiction for enforcement purposes.”

The district court next turned to a discussion of the ACT Ceremony claim. It pointed out that M.B. had submitted evidence demonstrating that the “challenged practice is routine within [RCSD], and that the 2014 ceremony was basically business as usual, following a similar format from prior years. The court rejected RCSD’s contention that M.B.’s evidence was irrelevant. Instead, it determined that the prior years’ ceremonies were relevant. The court found that despite having adopted the Religion Policy and entering into the agreed judgment, RCSD “did not alter the program or its behavior.”

The district court stressed that the 2014 ACT ceremony violated that policy and RCSD had conceded so without attempting to refute M.B.’s claim. It found unavailing RCSD’s argument that there was no constitutional violation because attendance at the ceremony was not mandatory.  The court said, “It is well-settled, however, that the voluntary nature of a school-sponsored unconstitutional event does not cure it from being coercive and in violation of the Establishment Clause.” It concluded that the fact that attendance was optional was immaterial to a finding of an Establishment Clause violation because:

The event was still coercive as it unnecessarily required Plaintiff to make the difficult decision between being exposed to a religious ritual she found objectionable or not attend an event honoring her and other students for their academic excellence.

According to the court, “M.B. was pressured into participating in a religious exercise which may or may not have corresponded with her personal beliefs.”

The district court also rejected RCSD’s argument that any liability arising from a First Amendment violation should be excused since school officials are ill-equipped to understand the complexities of constitutional law. The court emphasized that RCSD’s Religion Policy is stated in unambiguous and easily discernable terms. It found no merit to RCSD’s contention that ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway, 134 S. Ct. 1811 (2014), was the source of confusion regarding the parameters of the Establishment Clause.

The district court likewise found RCSD’s assertions of school officials’ ignorance about what practices were unconstitutional disingenuous because under the terms of the agreed judgment RCSD “is responsible for properly instructing school personnel and guaranteeing that activities comply with District policy.” It concluded that “school officials’ good faith belief that it was permissible to invite a Christian reverend to perform the opening prayer of a school sponsored event cannot absolve the District from a finding that it violated the terms of the Agreed Judgment” because “the only relevant inquiry here is whether the alleged contemnor complied with the court’s order.”

The district court next addressed the Bible distribution claim. It found RCSD’s arguments  that the distribution of Gideon Bibles did not violate its Religion Policy or the First Amendment unpersuasive and in disregard of well-settled law. It pointed out that the Fifth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over federal district courts in Mississippi, “has long held that it is unconstitutional for public schools to allow Gideons to distribute Bibles to students on school property during school hours.” The court also noted that “coercion test” established in Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992), “[a]ssisting with the distribution of Bibles to students at school, during school hours, is unconstitutionally coercive.”

The district court found that “the fact that the Bibles were distributed by Gideons and not by teachers is an inconsequential distinction because, through the eyes of a child, activities conducted at school are naturally viewed as school-sanctioned events.” It said, “Even if none of the teachers with the District actually handed a Bible to a child or instructed that the child pick one up from the tables, being led with their classmates to the area where the Gideons awaited their arrival was suggestive enough by itself to exhibit coercion.” It concluded that the argument that disclaimers were present was “patently misguided as the disclaimers were not enough to deflect the perception that the school endorsed the Gideons’ belief.” It, therefore, held:

In order to protect the sanctity of its decree, the legal process and the children attending the Rankin County School District, the Court finds that Defendant is in contempt of court for allowing the Gideons to distribute the Bibles on campus during school hours and by forcing the students to march through the area where the Gideons were stationed.

M.B. v. Rankin Cnty. Sch. Dist., No. 13-00241 (S.D.Miss. Jul. 10, 2015)

[Editor’s Note: In May 2015, Legal Clips summarized a decision by a federal district court in South Carolina in American Humanist Ass’n v. South Carolina Dep’t of Educ. holding that a school district’s prior policy of official and school-sponsored student prayers at school events, such as graduations, violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. As a result, it granted the plaintiffs’ motion to permanently enjoin the school district from officially promoting prayers at school sponsored events. However, the court concluded that the school district’s revised policy of allowing student led and initiated prayer at school events absent school district supervision and control did not violate the Establishment Clause. Applying the three-prong test set forth in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), it determined that the revised policy passed constitutional muster. The court pointed out that the speech being sanctioned by the revised policy is private speech, which even if it endorses religion is protected by the First Amendment’s free speech and free exercise of religion clauses.]

 

 

 

Ohio district mounts legal challenge to constitutionality of state’s takeover plan

The Plain Dealer reports that Youngstown School District (YSD) has filed suit to block a state takeover plan enacted this past June. The school district is being joined in its suit by the Ohio Education Association (OEA), the Youngstown Education Association, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

The newly enacted takeover law changes how the state can step in to run “failing” school districts by creating a CEO position, allowing mayors to appoint school board members and giving the CEO power to override parts of union contracts. The suit  asks the Franklin County Common Pleas Court for a preliminary injunction to block creation of a new “academic distress commission” to oversee the schools, as well as to prevent hiring of a chief executive officer to run the district.

YSD takes issue with how quickly the legislature passed the bill —  introducing major changes and passing them in the Ohio Senate and House, all on June 24. The suit alleges that Youngstown’s mayor, school board, teachers and parents had no opportunity to testify about the changes in the bill before it was passed. “Reasonable minds may disagree on the steps necessary to improve education in Youngstown City Schools and in every district across the state,” YSD’s press release states. “However, when vitally altered bills are secretly drafted and made law over the course of a single day, the students, parents, employees and taxpayers of Ohio are not well-served.”

OEA President Becky Higgins said quick passage and the broad powers that will be given to the new CEO prompted her organization to join the suit. She said, “The plan to turn over decision-making authority in the Youngstown schools to a single person — a CEO — would effectively silence the voices of educators. That’s unacceptable. Educators are committed to improving the Youngstown schools, and they need to be heard.”

Joe Andrews, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich said, “The governor was proud to sign legislation that helps students who are trapped in struggling schools.” Andrews added, “Kids in failing schools like Youngstown can’t lose another generation waiting for progress. By energizing the support systems around them we can give them the opportunity they deserve to reach their potential.”

The suit alleges: “In its haste to approve this bill, this case asserts that, the Ohio House and Senate violated the three-reading rule, Art. II, §15(C) of the Ohio Constitution, which requires that “every bill shall be considered by each house on three different days….” It also claims by imposing a CEO on the district and altering the powers of the school board without giving residents a chance to vote on it, takes away the power of their vote.

Source: The Plain Dealer, 8/21/15, By Patrick O’Donnell

[Editor’s Note: In July 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Washington Post reporting that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe had ruled out appealing a Norfolk Circuit Court decision holding that state law creating a state board specializing in school takeovers is unconstitutional. The governor’s decision thwarts legislative efforts to hand control of the state’s worst-performing public schools to universities or private charter groups.]

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