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High school student’s suit alleges Idaho district barred her from running for class president based on gender and religious affiliation

Courthouse News Service reports that Sierra Norman, who attended Declo High School (DHS), has filed suit against Cassia County Joint School District No. 151 alleging she was barred from running for 2014-15 senior class president because she is female and not a member of the Mormon church. In April 2014, Norman decided to run for 2014-15 senior class president, but says DHS administrators prohibited it, saying she was not eligible because they claimed she was a part-time student. DHS’s Constitution requires students to be full-time to “hold a major office.”

Norman says she was a full-time student, but administrators took it upon themselves to classify her as part-time because she was taking online advanced placement courses. “The defendants told Sierra that she couldn’t run because she was not a full-time student — even though she was a full-time student according to the school district’s own records,” her legal complaint asserts. “The only other student who petitioned to run, even by the defendants’ pretextual logic, wasn’t a full-time student either. Only two things meaningfully distinguished the other student from Sierra, and they were the real basis of the defendants’ decision: the other student was in LDS seminary, and he is male.”

Norman says she took her online courses in the high school library, and that even if she did not, school district rules and Idaho law allow her to participate in school activities. “The District has policy No. 630 because it must comply with state law, as Idaho is one of several states that provide robust protections to students who choose alternative curricula, such as home schooling or other alternative public school programs,” the complaint states. “Idaho state statute mandates that ‘any student participating in dual enrollment may enter into any program in the public school available to other students.'” The unidentified male student was the only candidate on the ballot and won the election.

Norman says that teacher and basketball coach Val Christensen lashed out after the Magic Valley Times-News printed an article detailing her situation, telling other teachers “in the school during school hours that someone should ‘Ray Rice’ her.” She claims the school district never notified her of a teacher complaint detailing Christensen’s comments, nor did it conduct a “meaningful” investigation of the matter. She says she was discriminated against based on ideals commonly held by a local population that is predominantly Mormon.

Richard Eppink, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho Foundation, said, “We have received a number of complaints in Idaho that are similar to the issue here and in a lot of cases, people don’t want to pursue litigation for fear of retaliation in standing up for their rights.” “The complaint focuses on the actions and omissions that were taken by the school district and school officials in regard to the school government,” Eppink said. “There could be another complaint here, but we are focusing on those acts and omissions.”

Norman’s suit alleges Title IX discrimination, violation of the Idaho Human Rights Act, and violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. She seeks compensatory damages, consequential and monetary damages, and costs and attorneys’ fees.

Source: Courthouse News Service, 4/21/16, By Philip A. Janquart

[Editor’s Note: In August 2010, Legal Clips summarized an article in Education Week reporting that Nettleton School District had dropped a 30-year old policy that restricted student eligibility for class offices based on race. The policy was intended to promote racial equality in a school district where the local population is approximately 66% white and 32% African-American. However, a flurry of online criticism erupted after the parent of a mixed-race student learned her daughter was ineligible to run for class reporter because of the race restrictions. ] 

Florida district imposes temporary ban on adult leadership activities in Christian student club

The Tampa Tribune reports that Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) is temporarily banning adult leaders with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) from engaging in activities at the school district’s middle and high schools until they can undergo special training on district policies and procedures. HCPS officials barred FCA adult leaders after reports that some leaders were violating district policy by regularly attending club meetings.

HCPS spokeswoman Tanya Arja said, “This does not at all impede students’ rights. She added, “We want to ensure the adults that are part of the organization are following all district protocols and procedures.” Steve Young, Hillsborough area director for FCA declined to comment.

Arja indicated that the special training would help clarify the adults’ roles. FCA, like any other district club, can meet before school, during lunch, during school club periods and after school, Arja said, and is allowed to function in Hillsborough County schools because it is student-led. She emphasized that any adult who does not work for the school district is prohibited from directing, conducting, controlling or regularly attending any activity or club, according to the district’s policies. Speakers can address the group on occasion but they cannot be routinely involved.

MaryLou Whaley, HCPS director of parent and community involvement, announced the temporary suspension in an email to school staff.  “Acts of charity and compassion from community organizations (business, nonprofit, and faith-based groups) are essential in supporting these varying needs of our students,” Whaley wrote. “The district, school, and its employees must remain neutral and in a custodial capacity in such activities.”

There are currently 40 FCA clubs operating in Hillsborough county, including clubs at 10 public middle schools and 25 public high schools. Student members, many of whom participate on school sports teams, meet on campus during non-instructional time or at school athletic events for weekly “huddles,” or for Bible studies that regularly feature professional athletes and local pastors.

Source: The Tampa Tribune, 4/20/16, By Anatasia Dawson

[Editor’s Note: In April 2014, Legal Clips summarized a story from  News 13 reporting that the FCA had filed suit against the Lake County School District (LCSD).  FCA’s suit alleged that it was being discriminated against by being excluded from announcements, the yearbook, and virtually every other school publication or website.  Liberty Counsel (LC) filed the lawsuit on FCA’s behalf. According to Steven Guschov, Engagement Director for LCSD, “All other clubs are allowed to do this, but FCA is not allowed to do so at Mt. Dora High School. That’s discrimination and that’s illegal.”]


Teachers union’s suit seeks access to Alabama district’s list of ineffective teachers

Huntsville Education Association (HEA) has filed suit in Madison County Circuit Court against Huntsville City Schools (HCS), says AL.com, after the school district denied HEA’s open records request for a copy of the list of “ineffective teachers” that was presented to principals last year. According to HEA, HCS violated state law in developing a new policy for evaluating teachers without consulting with the union.

The suit stems from a December 2015 meeting held by the school board’s attorneys and HCS Superintendent Casey Wardynski with school principals. The suit claims that during the meeting Wardynski and the attorneys gave a presentation titled “Guidance in Dealing with Teachers Who Are Not Effective,” which is a “step-by-step policy on observing, evaluating and documenting the work of teachers that Dr. Wardynski and the board believe to be ineffective.”

The suit alleges that at the conclusion of the presentation each principal was provided with a copy of the new evaluation policy and a binder containing the names of teachers considered ineffective by Wardynski and the board. HEA’s suit also alleges that a week after the meeting, HEA submitted an open records request to HCS for a copy of the materials in the  binders. According to the suit, on Jan. 16, 2016 the school board responded with a letter denying the request.

HEA is seeking a declaratory judgment, requiring HCS to provide the requested records and comply with state law regarding meeting and conferring with the HEA on developing policies that would affect its members.

Source: AL.com, 4/21/16, By Paul Gattis

[Editor’s Note: In December 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Journal Times reporting that Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI) has filed suit against the State of Wisconsin over access to voter information in the annual elections that certify labor organizations. MTI contends it has the right, under the state’s public records law, to know which Madison School District employees have cast a ballot and which ones haven’t while the 20-day voting period is taking place.]

A group of concealed weapon permit holders and pro-gun advocacy organizations file federal suit alleging that California’s exemption of retired peace officers from a law banning guns in schools discriminates against individuals who are not retired officers

Courthouse News Service reports that eleven individual holders of concealed carry permits, along with four pro-gun groups, have filed suit against the State of California, claiming that exempting retired peace officers from a law banning guns in schools discriminates against people who are not retired peace officers. In 2015, the state legislature recast the Gun-Free School Zone Act, which still exempts “individuals employed as ‘peace officers,’ members of the military, private security guards, and others actually employed to provide statutorily authorized security or law-enforcement services.” The revised legislation, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law, eliminated the exemption for private citizens who have a California license to carry a concealed weapon.

Gun rights advocates contend that firearms on campuses protect students and teachers. Gun control advocates doubt it. The suit, while having Second Amendment elements to it, is in essence an equal protection case.

The plaintiffs’ attorney Bradley Benbrook said it is unfair to exempt one group from the law, while excluding others who hold valid concealed carry permits. “Our clients are anxious to hear the state’s explanation for why, for example, retired IRS agents – who no longer have authority to enforce the law anywhere in California and never had a law enforcement reason to carry a gun on school grounds even when they did work for the government – are entitled to more favorable treatment than Californians who have satisfied the rigorous requirements to get a carry license,” he said.

The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the law violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection, and an injunction against its enforcement. They cite a precedent in which the Ninth Circuit struck down a similar provision that exempted peace officers from an assault weapons ban.

The suit states:

The purpose of this lawsuit is not to engineer a restoration of the exemption to the Act for ‘mere’ private citizens with a license to carry. Rather, the purpose is to obtain a ruling that the preferential treatment given to retired peace officers over similarly situated private citizens violates the Equal Protection Clause.

Source: Courthouse News Service, 4/18/16, By Matt Reynolds

[Editor’s Note: In October 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in Education News reporting that Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed Senate Bill 707 (SB 707) into law, which bans individuals from carrying concealed handguns at colleges and schools. Even though California law previously prohibited individuals from carrying firearms within 1,000 feet of a school or on college campuses, without written permission from administrators, individuals with concealed carry permits were exempt. SB 707 now extends the ban to those with concealed weapons permits. Under the new law carried firearms will still need to stay at least 1,000 feet away from school grounds and college campuses. In addition, if those who do hold carry permits are found with so much as a single round of ammunition on school grounds they will be held criminally liable. However, the law provides an exception for active or retired law enforcement officers.]

Missouri district files suit in attempt to recover $42 million in local tax revenue paid to charter schools

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS), along with the NAACP and other groups, has filed suit in federal court against the Missouri Board of Education (MBE) seeking to recoup $42 million in local sales tax revenue paid to charter schools over the past decade. The suit brought by SLPS’ Special Administrative Board (SAB) focuses on  the millions of dollars that charter schools receive each year from the 2/3-cent sales tax that funds court-ordered desegregation programs in St. Louis Public Schools.

The desegregation tax was enacted in 1999 to replace state funding that had paid for court-mandated desegregation programs, such as full-day kindergarten, transportation to magnet schools, and the buses that take thousands of African-American students to predominantly white schools in St. Louis County. SLPS’ suit centers on whether charter schools, which are tax-funded but independent public schools, are entitled to a share of the desegregation funds.

The suit argues that terms of the desegregation agreement are clear: Missouri promised it would “not seek in any proceeding to limit or diminish the financial relief provided for under the agreement.” When charter schools first began appearing in St. Louis in 2000, proceeds from the desegregation tax were not used to support their operations.

According to the legal complaint, since 2006 revenue from that tax has been included in the per-pupil allotment that the state withholds from St. Louis Public Schools and instead sends to charter schools. In 2008, district officials became aware that the desegregation tax revenue was going to help finance charter schools when SAB president Richard Sullivan sent a letter to then-Education Commissioner Kent King and then-Attorney General Jay Nixon stating that directing the desegregation tax revenue away from the district was in violation of the settlement agreement. This was having an “adverse financial impact” on district schools, his letter stated.

In January 2016, SAB sent a letter again asking the state to return about $42 million of the desegregation revenue to the district, plus an additional $8.8 million expected to go to charter schools for the 2015-16 school year. The letter threatened legal action if the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education did not act.

On Feb. 15, 2016, attorneys representing the school district and the plaintiffs involved in the original desegregation lawsuit then met with the Missouri solicitor general about the issue. On March 4, 2016, the district received a letter signed by William Thornton, an attorney for the state education department. “We believe that the state of Missouri is distributing these funds in accordance with the Desegregation Settlement Agreement and Missouri state statutes,” it said.

If successful, the legal challenge could result in the closure of charter schools, which now educate about a third of public school students in St. Louis. If it were to merely halt the flow of desegregation tax dollars to charters, their budgets would be reduced by about $800 per student, said Doug Thaman, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association. This year, charter schools received $8,170 per student in state and local funding. Missouri law states that if it overpays or underpays charter schools, the onus is on the district or the charter schools to remedy the situation in 12 payments over one year.

If the district prevails, it could change the education landscape. Thaman said charter schools don’t have the financial capacity to repay the $42 million, plus the $8.8 million for this school year. Thaman called the legal challenge an attack on school choice and the families that have chosen charters over district schools or moving to the suburbs. “For a district that has been working to restore its reputation, to turn around and assault over 10,000 students and their families who have just helped support their tax levy, it is pretty egregious,” Thaman said. “I would encourage them to drop the suit.”

Adolphus Pruitt, executive director of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP, listed as a plaintiff, said he understands the potential disruption and impact on charter schools, which are growing in number and enrollment. “Of course I’m always concerned about the impact of anything on the education of children in St. Louis, particularly those who come from an underserved population,” he said. “Unfortunately, in this instance, the courts asked the city to pay its fair share in the cost of desegregation. It was their intent then, and the courts’ intent then, that the tax would go to pay the costs of the desegregation program.”

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4/19/16, By Elisa Crouch

[Editor’s Note: SAB’s legal complaint (petition) states:

 Pursuant to the DSA [Desegregation Settlement Agreement], these Desegregation Tax monies were funds that: (1) the State agreed would belong to the District to facilitate the continuation of desegregation remediation and other programs established by the Court; (2) St. Louis voters approved so that the District could implement such desegregation remediation programs; and (3) were contractually and unconditionally assigned to the District in exchange for the Plaintiffs’ and the District’s execution of the DSA. As a consequence, any attempt by the State or any State entity to divert those sales tax proceeds to any party other than the District for any contrary purpose violates both the Settlement Order and the DSA and constitutes contempt of this Court’s final ruling.

In October 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in Trib Live reporting that the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) has filed suit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania over gambling revenue being diverted to pay charter schools.] 

Ninth Circuit panel rules former teacher failed to state a valid claim for First Amendment retaliation based on her termination after raising concerns about her school’s special education program to her supervisors and her students’ parents

Coomes v. Edmonds Sch. Dist. No. 15., No. 13-35747 (9th Cir. Mar. 23, 2016)

Abstract: A U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit three judge panel has ruled that a former teacher failed to state a valid claim for First Amendment retaliation after she alleged that she was terminated after raising concerns about her school’s special education program to her supervisors and her students’ parents. The panel concluded, based on Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), that the teacher’s speech was not protected by the First Amendment because it was made pursuant to her duties as an employee, even though it involved a matter of public concern.

The issues related to the state law claims will not be discussed in this summary.

Facts/Issues: Tristan Coomes was employed by Edmonds School District (ESD) as the manager of the Meadowdale Middle School’s (MMS) new Emotional/Behavioral Disorders (EBD) program and the primary teacher for students in the program. Although Coomes initially enjoyed a good working relationship with MMS’s administration and received good performance evaluations, her relationship with the school administration later deteriorated, arising from her disagreement with the schools administration over the “mainstreaming” of her students. Coomes believed that some of her students who were ready for mainstreaming were not being allowed access to such classes for impermissible financial reasons.

In March 2010, Coomes sent Andi Nofziger, her union representative, and Debby Carter, ESD human resources manager, an email complaining about treatment by Meadowdale administrators, including MMS Principal Christine Avery. The email noted she had expressed concerns that EBD students who were ready to move to mainstream classes were not moved or had moves delayed based on improper financial considerations. Coomes forwarded the email to a group of other MMS teachers, and the email chain was then forwarded to Avery in April 2010.

Avery forwarded the email chain to ESD administrators, stating that it contained false accusations and that she hoped the District would “take a very strong position in stopping this behavior.” A few weeks later, Avery emailed Carter and ESD Assistant Superintendent Ken Limon to express her disagreement with a proposal to reassign Coomes to another school because Avery believed that the reassignment would publicly validate Coomes’s complaints about Avery.

During the next school year, the EBD program experienced a significant change. EBD students were placed in more “mainstream” academic classes than in past years as part of “a concerted effort to move the EBD program from a self-contained model to a more inclusive . . . model.” Coomes objected to this change when it was originally proposed. She sent MMS Assistant Principal Joe Webster an email stating that she thought that new students who had been in self-contained classrooms for sixth grade should start the year in her EBD classroom full time so she could get to know their needs and help them adjust to the new school setting.

Coomes continued to express concerns about changes to the EBD program. Meanwhile, her evaluations began to worsen, and Webster and Avery wrote Coomes a number of letters criticizing her performance or reiterating their expectations regarding the curriculum and the EBD program.

After Coomes complained to ESD Superintendent Nick Brossoit in the spring of 2011, ESD agreed to transfer Coomes to a position at Lynnwood High School for the 2011–2012 school year. However, prior to the start of the academic calendar she requested and was granted medical leave. She was on leave from September 1 to December 31, 2011.

However, on the advice of her therapist, Coomes decided not to return to work, and on September 9, 2011, her attorney sent the District a letter stating that it was “impossible for her to continue working” and that she had been constructively discharged. After the ESD’s counsel contacted Coomes’s counsel to confirm that Coomes would not be returning to work, the ESD processed her employment separation.

Coomes filed suit against ESD in Washington state court, alleging that she had been wrongfully discharged under Washington law, that her First Amendment rights had been infringed, that the district retaliated against for exercising such rights, and that she was entitled to recovery under a variety of other state law claims. Her case was removed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, where she added Avery and Webster as defendants. After discovery, ESD and the administrators moved for summary judgment on the federal and state claims. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the First Amendment claim.

Ruling/Rationale: The Ninth Circuit panel affirmed the district court’s decision granting the defendants summary judgment on the First Amendment retaliation claim. Relying on Ninth Circuit precedent, it stated courts employ a five-factor inquiry to evaluate First Amendment retaliation claims:

(1) that plaintiff spoke on a matter of public concern; (2) that she spoke as a private citizen rather than a public employee; and (3) that the relevant speech was “a substantial or motivating factor in the adverse employment action.” If the plaintiff establishes such a prima facie case, the burden of proof shifts to the government to show that (4) “the state had an adequate justification for treating the employee differently from other members of the general public;”or (5) “the state would have taken the adverse employment action even absent the protected speech.”

The panel focused on the second factor, i.e., whether Coomes spoke as a private citizen or as a public employee. Its analysis was guided by the controlling precedent in Garcetti that states that the “First Amendment does not protect speech by public employees that is made pursuant to their employment responsibilities—no matter how much a matter of public concern it might be.”

The panel stated the “critical question under Garcetti is whether the speech at issue is itself ordinarily within the scope of an employee’s duties, not whether it merely concerns those duties.” As a result, it found “to the extent that Coomes’s speech was within the scope of her employment duties, such speech is not protected by the First Amendment.”

They indicated that Coomes had not argued that ESD had failed to meet its initial burden of presenting sufficient evidence to establish Coomes spoke as a public employee. As a result the burden of demonstrating the existence of genuine issues of material fact shifted to Coomes. It concluded, “Coomes’s conclusory statements about her duties and her lone citation to the factual record were insufficient to meet her burden to show that genuine issues of material fact exist.”

Even though Coomes failed to meet her burden in demonstrating that genuine issues of material fact existed, the court indicated that where a case turns on mixed questions of fact and law and the only disputes relate to the legal significance of undisputed facts, the controversy is a question of law suitable for disposition on summary judgment. Coomes failed to establish that there were any genuine issues of material fact, but focused her argument on relevant case law, which would have made summary judgment appropriate if supported legally.

After reviewing the record, the panel concluded that “Coomes ha[d] failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to the scope of her duties, and the evidence indicates that her communication with District staff about the implementation of IEPs and management of the EBD program fell within her job duties as manager of the EBD program.” It, therefore, concluded her speech “was made in her role as a public employee and is not protected by the First Amendment.”

While concluding that Coomes’ speech to parents was “clearly outside of her chain of command,” the panel found that the communication, which included speaking with parents about students’ IEPs and their progress in the EBD program, “was part and parcel of Coomes’s  job.” It, therefore, concluded her speech to parents fell within the scope of her duties and was not protected First Amendment speech.

Coomes v. Edmonds Sch. Dist. No. 15., No. 13-35747 (9th Cir. Mar. 23, 2016)

[Editor’s Note: In July 2014, Legal Clips summarized A U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit three-judge panel decision in Mpoy v. Rhee holding that even assuming the portion of a teacher’s email to the chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) accusing his principal of falsifying the assessments of students was protected speech under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause, the individual school administrators named as defendants were entitled to qualified immunity from the teacher’s First Amendment retaliation suit. The panel assumed, without deciding, that the part of the email reporting that the principal had allegedly altered the students’ records was protected under the First Amendment.  However, the panel still concluded that the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established law, at the time the teacher was terminated, that such speech is protected.]

Religious advocacy group sues Colorado district over its revised school voucher program excluding religious schools from participation

The Institute for Justice (IJ) has filed suit in federal court against Douglas County School District (DCSD), reports The Denver Post, claiming the school district’s revised private school voucher program discriminates against  families seeking to enroll children in a religious school. The suit alleges the revised School Choice Grant Program, which was narrowly approved last month by the school board, is discriminatory because it does not allow religious schools to participate in the program.

IJ’s press release announcing the suit said:

This type of discrimination violates parents’ fundamental liberty to direct the education and upbringing of their children. It also violates the governmental neutrality toward religion demanded by the free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

IJ’s suit is the latest litigation that has plagued the voucher program since its initial adoption by the school board. DCSD’s first attempt came in 2011 with a program that did include religious schools among the choices offered to families. That initiative was immediately challenged in court on the ground that it violated state law by directing public funds to sectarian schools. In the summer of 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down the program. The case awaits a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court as to whether it will take it up or not.

DCSD spokeswoman Paula Hans said the School Choice Grant Program was “designed to meet the state constitutional limitations as outlined by the Colorado Supreme Court in its ruling last summer.” “Such a program is within the confines the Colorado Supreme Court has placed upon the district and we fulfill our obligation to defend the program the court limited us to,” she said.

Senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, Michael Bindas, said the district is “now doing the very thing that it told the U.S. Supreme Court it is unconstitutional to do: excluding religious options from an otherwise generally available school choice program.”

Source: The Denver Post, 4/19/16, By John Aguilar

[Editor’s Note: In March 2016, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Denver Post reporting that DCSD’s board, in a 4-3 vote, had approved a revised private school voucher program that replaced the previous program struck down by the Colorado Supreme Court. The revised program excludes religious schools from participating in the program. Board President Meghann Silverthorn said the revised program is “reasonable.” “It is following the mandates set for us by the courts who have ruled so far,” she said.]

African-American parents tell federal investigators North Carolina district’s disciplinary policies and practices are discriminatory

The News & Observer reports that African-American parents, students and activists told officials from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that Wake County School District’s (WCSD) discipline policies and practices discriminate against African-American students on the basis of race.  OCR has been investigating WCSD since November 2010, soon after the state NAACP and other groups filed a federal civil rights complaint. Like many other districts, the percentage of suspensions given to black students exceeds their representation in overall enrollment.

WCSD officials point to steps that have been taken since 2010 to reduce suspensions, including encouraging schools to use out-of-school suspensions sparingly and, instead, find in-school alternatives. They also said they welcome the return of federal officials who are visiting classrooms, staff and families. “The school system has reduced student suspensions by 34 percent in the past five years while emphasizing positive behaviors as part of its discipline programs,” the school district said in a written statement. “About 90 percent of our African-American students are never suspended during their school careers.”

According to Jennifer Story, an attorney for Advocates For Children’s Services, while total suspensions are down, the disparity in suspension rates between African-American students and other groups remains. African-American students accounted for 63% of WCSD’s suspensions during the 2014-15 school year while making up 24 percent of the enrollment. They also accounted for 69% of the referrals that school resource officers made to the court system last school year. In addition, African-American students are 1.7 times more likely to be arrested for fighting and theft than other groups. Several speakers talked about the hostile attitude that school resource officers have toward black students.

Source: The News & Observer, 4/12/16, By T. Keung Hui

[Editor’s Note: In November 2010, Legal Clips summarized an article in The News & Observer reporting that the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) would be conducting an investigation of Wake County School Board’s (WCSB) student assignment and discipline policies to determine if  the policies were in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The federal probe is in response to complaints from the NAACP. If WCSB’s policies are found to be in violation of Title VI, the school district could lose approximately $80 million in federal funding.]

New York state school district settles suit with white student who claimed district failed to protect him from peer harassment/bullying at high school with predominantly minority student body

According to Newsday, Brentwood school district settled a suit filed by Giovanni Micheli, who is white and formerly attended Brentwood High School (BHS), that claimed school officials failed to protect him from bullying by a predominantly minority student body. Micheli’s suit claimed he was forced to leave the BHS’s Sonderling Center during his sophomore year after being mocked as a “white boy” and facing physical threats dating back to sixth grade.

The school district asserted that it was unable to help Micheli because he couldn’t name the students who threatened him and urged  him to go to counseling to build his self-confidence. However, his suit alleged they didn’t do more because he was white in a predominantly black and Hispanic school. The total 2014-15 enrollment in the high school, which is split into four different centers — was 78% Latino, 13% African-American and 6% non-Latino white.

The school district entered into the settlement after trial began in federal court. The suit contended that Micheli sought a transfer to another school, but administrators opposed it and told him that if they allowed it they’d have to do the same thing “for all of the other white children that requested it.” He left school in 2009, finished his sophomore year with home tutoring and then transferred to parochial school, according to court filings.

The school district, in a statement, insisted it does not discriminate and called the settlement “satisfactory and in the best interest of all parties.” The statement also said, “The District has always and remains committed to a safe and secure educational environment for our students and we do everything we can to ensure their safety.”

Source: Newsday, 4/12/16, By John Riley

[Editor’s Note: In August 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Washington Post reporting that Jon Everhart, a former teacher who is white, had won a $350,000 jury award in his reverse discrimination suit against the Prince George’s County Board of Education (PGCBOE). The suit claimed he was forced out of his job by an African American principal.]


Education reform group files suit against state of Minnesota challenging state’s teacher tenure and job protection laws

Jurist reports that Students for Education Reform Minnesota (SERM) has filed suit in Ramsey County District Court, Second Judicial District, claiming state laws governing teacher tenure violate students’ fundamental rights to an education. The suit names the state, Gov. Mark Dayton, the Minnesota Department of Education, and state Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius as defendants.

The suit alleges that education is suffering because three-years is too short a time period to determine whether an educator should obtain lifetime job protection. It also asserts the laws on firing teachers are too vague. The legal complaint also indicates that the process for terminating teachers is long and very time consuming, resulting in ineffective teachers remaining in the classroom for extended periods of time.

Current Minnesota law allows a teacher to obtain tenure after three years. In recent years legislation surrounding education and teachers has generated controversy in the US.  Earlier this month education advocacy groups in New York challenged the state’s teacher tenure laws, claiming that laws protecting teacher employment violate the civil rights of children to a quality education. In June 2015, a judge for the Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled that the California’s system for tenure and seniority for public school teachers is unconstitutional.

Jurist, 4/14/16, By Kasey Tuttle

[Editor’s Note: SERM’s legal complaint states:

In the aggregate, Minnesota’s public-school children outperform students from nearly all other states in nationwide academic assessments. At the same time, Minnesota’s public schools are plagued by significant disparities in education opportunity. The result is that, on average, Minnesota’s low-income students and students of color fall well behind their peers in high school graduation rates, performance on academic assessments, and other markers of student learning and preparedness.

On April 14, 2016, A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals of California, Second Appellate District, reversed the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s decision in Vergara v. California, which struck down the state’s teacher tenure and seniority laws. The appellate panel held:

Plaintiffs failed to establish that the challenged statutes violate equal protection, primarily because they did not show that the statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students. Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach. Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.]


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