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DOJ’s suit claims Georgia is discriminating against disabled students by segregating them from other students

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed suit in federal court against the state of Georgia, claiming it unlawfully segregates children with disabilities from other students in its schools, says Courthouse News Service. DOJ’s suit alleges that the state “discriminates against thousands of public school students with behavior-related disabilities by unnecessarily segregating them, or by placing them at serious risk of such segregation, in a separate and unequal educational program.”

DOJ is specifically concerned with the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support Program (GNETS), an initiative financed, operated, and administered by the state. It asserts that in practice, the program allows students with disabilities to be taught in the basement of a school building with its own separate entrance.

The legal complaint asserts that the students are also educated in “often old, poorly maintained buildings, some of which formerly served as schools for black students under Jim Crow laws.” In addition, the complaint alleges the program denies students with disabilities an equal opportunity to access and benefit from the educational services available to students throughout the State.

A DOJ press release states: “Georgia’s administration of its mental health and therapeutic educational services for students with behavior-related disabilities unnecessarily segregates students with disabilities in GNETS when they could appropriately be served with their peers in general education settings.”

Source: Courthouse News Service, 8/25/16, By Eva Fedderly

[Editor’s Note: In August 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Washington Post reporting that DOJ had issued its findings regarding its investigation into the GNETS Program and its compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The findings are in a letter from DOJ Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta  to Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal and Attorney General  Sam Olens.]

Maryland district’s policy of ensuring confidentiality of students’ transgender status raises questions regarding sleeping arrangements on overnight field trips and restroom use at school

Fox 5 reports that an instructional video for teachers released by Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), explaining how to approach situations when it comes to gender identity, has resulted in criticism from the community. AACPS said it has never dealt with a controversial situation surrounding a transgender student.

The school district sent the video out to all of its schools explaining the recent directives from the federal government and what the laws allow them to do or not to do. In the video, school administrators explain that students who are transgender are allowed to use school facilities based on gender identity.

AACPS officials indicate that they are not permitted to tell other parents or students about a student’s gender identity, stressing that it is a matter of privacy. “A student’s gender identity is a confidential matter, so if you have a student who identifies as transgender, the staff that are going to know are the staff that are in the immediate need-to-know circle, and we work with the student and the student’s family to determine that,” said AACPS spokesperson Bob Mosier.

Based on those policy considerations, a transgender student would be allowed to sleep in the area of the gender they identify with during overnight field trips. The same goes for using the restrooms at school.

AACPS said people need to look at the bigger picture. The school district said it is not a transgender or sexual orientation issue, but it is their job as a school system to support all children in the best way possible.

Source: Fox 5, 8/23/16, By Sarah Simmon

[Editor’s Note:  NSBA’s FAQs on transgender students in schools, 2016 Transgender Students in Schools, states:

Every public student has a recognized right to privacy at school protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and, in certain situations, by the U.S. Constitution. FERPA protects education records and personally identifiable information contained in them from release except under certain circumstances, and allows a student and/or the parents access to those records. A student’s transgender status in an education record is “personally identifiable information,” which would be protected from disclosure to others without the student’s and/or parent’s consent.

If a student’s transgender status is included in his or her education records, parents of minor students have a right to see that information. FERPA does not preclude schools from otherwise sharing the transgender status of a minor student with the parents. But, generally, a student’s transgender status is confidential information and should be protected as such by school officials.]

Parent group’s suit seeks to prevent Detroit public schools’ emergency manager from hiring uncertified teachers

The Detroit News reports that a group of parents has filed suit against the new Detroit Public Schools Community District’s (DPSCSD) emergency manager and interim superintendent to prevent the possible hiring of uncertified teachers. The suit contends that a state law allowing the use of such instructors would treat their children like “second class citizens.”

The parents argue that certain sections of the six tie-bar bills creating DPSCSD, including a provision allowing the use of uncertified teachers, are “onerous and unconstitutional.” Emergency manager Steven Rhodes and interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather are managing the district until a new school board takes office Jan. 1., 2017. That board will then operate the district, with oversight from a financial review commission.

The suit claims that the $617 million legislative package that bailed out the debt-ridden Detroit Public Schools (DPS) includes language making the city’s new district the only one in Michigan that can hire uncertified teachers. That provision, it asserts, “treats every minor child of the old Detroit Public Schools as well as every other child who will attend the new Community Schools District, as a second class citizen.”

However, Chrystal Wilson, a DPSCSD spokeswoman, stressed  that Rhodes and Meriweather have “said on numerous occasions that they will not hire uncertified teachers.” Nevertheless, the parents argue if the laws go unchallenged, it will enable an “unequal and separate education system” for the city’s public schools, violating due process and equal protection rights under the federal and state constitutions.

Under state law, school districts can employ full-time or part-time noncertificated, nonendorsed teachers with appropriate degrees and experience for designated courses in grades 9-12, including science and foreign language classes. The parents are asking the court to find the provision unlawful and grant an injunction that would prevent the district from hiring noncertified teachers now or under future leadership.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed the DPS rescue package in June. The plan, approved by the Republican-led Legislature over opposition from Detroit legislators and other Democrats, pays off $467 million in operating debt and provides $150 million in startup funding for the city’s new debt-free district. The bills also strengthen anti-strike provisions to discourage teacher “sickouts” and move educators to a merit pay system.

Source: The Detroit News, 8/24/16, By Christine Ferretti

[Editor’s Note: April 2016, Legal Clips summarized an article from WXYZ Detroit reporting that Attorney Tom Bleakley planned to file a class action suit on behalf of all students attending Detroit public schools, accusing the governor, politicians, emergency managers, and others of violating students’ rights under the Michigan Constitution to an “adequate” education. “Ninety-seven percent of DPS graduates are not college-ready or career-ready, based on minimal state guidelines,” Bleakley said. “So we’re aiming to fix that with this lawsuit.”]

 

 

Sua Sponte: California enters into resolution agreement with OCR to end the racially discriminatory impact of the district’s discipline policies

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued a press release announcing  that the Lodi Unified School District (LUSD) has entered into a resolution agreement to end the racially discriminatory impact of the district’s discipline policies and address concerns that it disciplines African-American students more harshly than white students. OCR found that LUSD’s discipline policy, while neutral on its face and not adopted with a discriminatory intent, had a disproportionate impact on African-American students and was not necessary to meet the district’s educational goals, thereby violating Title VI. Specifically, the district permitted individual schools to develop and impose different consequences for discipline incidents than described in the district’s Conduct Code that are permitted by state law.

OCR found that African-American students were overrepresented at almost every level of discipline to a statistically significant degree–from referral to in-school-suspension, out-of-school suspension, expulsion, and citation – every year analyzed, including each of the four school-years from 2011 to 2015. OCR also had concerns that LUSD treated African-American students differently and more harshly with respect to imposition of discipline.

OCR’s finding of a disparate impact violation, as well as OCR’s concerns regarding different treatment of African-American students district-wide; and the concerns regarding the district’s response to the individual allegation of discrimination.

Among the provisions, the resolution agreement requires LUSD to:

  • continue to employ a Positive School Climate Coordinator to coordinate implementation of the agreement for the duration of the agreement’s term;
  • consult with experts to identify root causes for the district’s racial disparities in discipline and develop and implement an action plan, approved by OCR;
  • revise its discipline policies and practices and regularly train staff to ensure consistency and nondiscriminatory administration of discipline;
  • adopt student-focused remedies including a system of research-based student supports and interventions, as well as early intervention for at-risk students;
  • conduct school discipline climate surveys in all district schools and incorporate relevant information obtained into the action plan;
  • revise policies and procedures and training and the memorandum of understanding with regard to SROs to ensure nondiscriminatory administration of discipline;
  • ensure that the district consistently collects and reports discipline data on a number of discipline factors, reviews data regularly, and self-monitors; and
  • issue written guidance and provide training regarding racial harassment, and create a plan to prevent racial harassment for the school at issue in the case.

The OCR press release contains links to both the resolution letter and the resolution agreement.

 

Ohio state court rejects Ohio Dep’t of Ed’s request to dismiss suit brought by state’s largest online charter school

Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Jenifer French has denied the Ohio Department of Education’s (ODE) motion to dismiss a suit filed by Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) challenging ODE’s ongoing attendance audit, says The Columbus Dispatch. ODE argued that ECOT prematurely filed the suit before any decision had been made on how its ongoing attendance audit would impact the school’s state funding, a decision that can be appealed to the state Board of Education (OBE).

ECOT is suing to block the state from using log-in durations as a way to determine student attendance for purposes of state funding. The school says the action violates state law and a signed 2003 funding agreement with the state.

In denying the motion to dismiss, Judge French said that whether the lawsuit is premature does not depend on a final determination of funding, but rather the department’s decision to use log-in durations as part of its attendance audit. “Even though the (department) has not issued its final decision on ECOT’s funding, because the (department) has already been using the log-in durations as part of its FTE review/audit process…(ECOT) assert(s) viable and ripe claims,” French said.

The judge also rejected ODE’s argument that ECOT had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies, which would require an appeal to OBE. French said the school’s breach-of-contract claim is not subject to the administrative process. “The court agreed with all of ECOT’s arguments in rejecting ODE’s arguments for dismissal,” ECOT lobbyist Neil Clark said. “ODE has wanted to act as legislator, judge, jury and executioner for e-schools. Today the court rejected that abuse of power.”

ODE wants to use log-in durations and other participation records to determine if ECOT students — and students at other online charter schools — are getting the 920 hours of “learning opportunities” required by the state. It said a preliminary audit of ECOT records in March found that most students were logging in about one hour per day, roughly four hours short of the average needed to meet 920 hours. If those figures hold true, it could cost the school tens of millions of dollars — hence the reason for the lawsuit.

ECOT gets about $106 million in state funding for more than 15,000 students. ECOT says that in the past, the state did not check log-in durations but relied on teachers certifying that students were offered 920 hours of “educational opportunity.”

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, 8/23/16, By Jim Siegel

[Editor’s Note: In July 2016, Legal Clips summarized a story from WKBN27 reporting that ECOT, Ohio’s largest online charter school, had filed suit against ODE, seeking to prevent ODE from conducting an audit of the school’s attendance records. The state determines how much funding the school will receive through their students’ attendance.]

Federal court suit in Connecticut alleges state laws unconstitutionally restrict minority and low-income students’ school choice options

According to L.A. School Report, “StudentsMatter” has filed suit on behalf of eleven students and parents in federal district court alleging that Connecticut’s laws unconstitutionally restrict minority and low-income students’ school choice options. The plaintiffs in Martinez v. Malloy argue that the state laws violate the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys cite three categories of laws that are being challenged: the moratorium on new magnet schools, “arcane and dysfunctional” laws that govern public charter schools and the state’s inter-district open choice enrollment program that penalizes school districts that accept students from inner-city school districts. The legal complaint states:

These inner-city children are compelled to attend public schools that the State knows have been failing its students for decades—consistently failing to provide even a minimally adequate education. Yet, at the same time, Connecticut has taken steps that prevent these poor and minority children from having viable public-school alternatives— knowingly depriving low-income and minority schoolchildren of the vital educational opportunities available to their more affluent and predominantly white peers.

“StudentsMatter” contends that tens of thousands of poor and minority students in Connecticut are harmed by the laws. “Every child deserves access to a quality education and the opportunities it provides, but the state is effectively limiting that access for some children — a direct violation of their Constitutional rights,” said StudentsMatter founder David Welch. “This case is about parents standing up and demanding answers for a broken and harmful system.”

Source: LA School Report, 8/23/16, By Sarah Favot

Editor’s Note: The “StudentsMatter” press release announcing the suit states:

Despite the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process, the State of Connecticut has created a public education system in which zip code and luck of the draw determine whether students have a shot at a quality public education. These broken policies restrict the availability of quality public school options, forcing thousands of low-income students and students of color to languish in schools that consistently fail to provide a minimally effective education. 

The legal complaint makes six constitutional claims: (1) Equal Protection ( Equality of Educational Opportunity); (2) Equal Protection (Fundamental Right to a Minimally Adequate Education); (3) Equal Protection (Deprivation of Equality Interest); (4) Due Process (Fundamental Right to a Minimally Adequate Education); (5) Due Process (Deprivation of Liberty Interest); and (6) Due Process  and Equal Protection (Duty of Public Administration).

Federal district court in New York state rules that disabled student has valid ADA claim based on district requiring an adult handler for her service dog

U.S. v. Gates-Chilli Cent. Sch. Dist., No. 15-6583 (N.Y.W.D. Jul. 28, 2016)

Abstract: A federal district court in New York state has ruled that neither the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title II, nor the ADA’s implementing regulations, requires school districts to provide disabled students with handlers, or any other service, for their service animals. However, the court concluded that the federal government had stated a valid claim on behalf of a disabled student for violation of Title II of the ADA based on the fact that the school district required the student’s parent to provide an adult handler for the student’s service dog at school. It found that there was genuine issue of material fact as to whether the student was acting as the dog’s handler within the meaning of Title II and the ADA’s implementing regulation.

Facts/Issues: D.P. is a qualified individual with a disability within the meaning of the ADA and its implementing regulation. D.P. is accompanied at school by her service dog and a dog handler, provided by D.P.’s mother, H.P. In addition to the separate adult handler, D.P. is also accompanied throughout the school day by a full-time 1:1 aide and a full-time 1:1 nurse, both provided by Gates-Chili Central School District (GCCSD).

The parent alleges that the school district is in violation of the student’s rights, pursuant to Title II of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 1231-1234, and the implementing regulation codified at 28 C.F.R. Part 35, Subpart F, by requiring the student to have an adult handler at school and on the school bus when the student is being accompanied by the service animal. The district contends that the “regulations make it clear that a public entity, such as the District is not required to provide any services with respect to a service animal brought on the premises of a public entity by an individual.”

Even though it alleges that it does not have an obligation to provide a handler for the service animal, GCCSD argues that D.P. needs assistance for the “handling, control, direction, redirection, and care and supervision of the dog.” The federal government, on D.P.’s behalf, refutes GCCSD’s argument as follows:

  • Handling: [d]isputed. Though she is nonverbal, D.P. is able to give her service dog commands using a series of hand gestures or signals. …. In addition, D.P. can tether herself to her service dog.
  • Control: [d]isputed. Upon information and belief, the service dog has never been out of control in school or on the school bus in the five years it has accompanied D.P. to school.
  • Direction/Redirection: [d]isputed. These terms do not appear in the Title II regulation and are vague. To the extent Defendant’s use of these terms is a proxy for “handling,” the United States reiterates its response as stated in paragraph a.
  • Care and Supervision: [d]isputed. …. [t]he facts demonstrate that the service dog in this case does not need care or supervision because the service dog does not require exercise, food, toileting, recreation, exercise, or grooming during the school day.

The federal government also disputed GCCSD’s claim that “[t]he handler supplied by D.P.’s Parent tethers and untethers the dog and issues commands to the dog, and assists and/or directs the Student when the Student tethers herself to the dog.” Instead, it argued that that the dog handler has, over time, given the service dog fewer and fewer commands, and that D.P. can now tether herself to the dog, and only needs assistance untethering.

In addition, GCCSD argued that because Medicaid is absorbing the cost of the handler, the case is moot. However, the district court, accepting D.P.’s affidavit that Medicaid coverage is not guaranteed, held that D.P.’s claim was not moot.

Ruling/Rationale: The district court denied GCCSD’s motion for summary judgment, allowing the federal government to proceed with its claim that the school district violated D.P.’s rights under the ADA by requiring her mother to provide an adult handler for the service dog. While it agreed with GCCSD that under the ADA’s implementing regulation, 28 C.F.R. § 35.136(e), the school district has “no obligation for supervision of the animal,” the court stated: “On this issue, the Court agrees with the District, and finds that neither the statute, nor the regulation, require the District to provide handling services for the dog.”

However, the district court did find that the federal government had successfully refuted GCSD’s argument that D.P. did not have her service dog under control. The district asserted that D.P.’s “being tethered to the dog may assist in controlling it, but that tethering is not, in and of itself, control over the service dog.” The court found that the argument was “undercut by the holding in Alboniga v. Sch. Bd. of Broward Co. Fl., 87 Ft. Supp. 3d 1319, 1342 (S.D. Fla. 2015), which stated, “normally, tethering a service animal to the wheelchair of a disabled person constitutes ‘control’ over the animal by the disabled person, acting as the animal’s ‘handler.’”

The court also indicated that even in the absence of tethering, voice controls or signals between the animal and the disabled ‘handler’ can constitute ‘control.’” Since the court found that there was a material issue of fact, with regard to whether the student was actual her dog’s “handler,” it concluded that it was precluded from granting summary judgment in favor of the school district.

U.S. v. Gates-Chilli Cent. Sch. Dist., No. 15-6583 (N.Y.W.D. Jul. 28, 2016)

[Editor’s Note: In the Democrat & Chronicle article reporting on the district court’s decision, it said: “When the lawsuit was filed, the district had already accrued more than $34,000 in legal bills fighting the case. Documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request show the district racked up at least $36,000 more in legal fees between August 2015 and February 2016. However, the records show insurance picking up about 85 percent of the costs.”

In October 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reporting that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed suit in federal court against GCCSD alleging that the school district was engaging in disability discrimination. DOJ contends that GCCSD’s refusal to allow a medically fragile student’s service dog to accompany her to school without a handler, which the parents must pay for, violates the student’s rights under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).]

 

 

California Supreme Court declines to hear appeals in suit challenging state’s tenure law and in suits challenging state’s school funding scheme

EdSource reports that the California Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, rejected the appeals in Vergara v. California, a suit seeking to overturn California’s teacher tenure and teacher protection laws, and in Campaign for Quality Education v. California and Robles-Wong v. California two cases, that were consolidated on appeal, which challenged the state’s school funding scheme. Vergara was brought by the group Students Matter, which argued that tenure and other teacher employment protection laws harmed poor and minority students who were disproportionately saddled with 3% to 5% of the state’s worst-performing teachers.

The California Supreme Court’s rejection of Campaign for Quality Education/Robles-Wong constitutes a major defeat for a coalition of state education groups, including the CTA, the state PTA and the California School Boards Association, along with advocates for minority students. The suits were filed by the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates, which brought the related lawsuits six years ago. They argued that governors and the Legislature set rigorous academic mandates but then didn’t provide enough funding. They asserted that low-income kids and English learners were especially harmed by the lack of sufficient resources.

The four justice majority in each case gave no reason for denying the appeals from the courts of appeal decisions. Lawsuits involving state education issues generally cannot be appealed to federal courts. However, Theodore Boutrous, lead attorney for Students Matter, said that attorneys were exploring that option or pursuing another lawsuit in state courts.

A three-judge panel of the Second District Court of Appeals, based in Los Angeles, didn’t dispute the worrisome impact on students of lowest-performing teachers but disagreed with the trial court that the statutes were to blame. “The evidence also revealed deplorable staffing decisions being made by some local administrators that have a deleterious impact on poor and minority students in California’s public schools,” they wrote. “The evidence did not show that the challenged statutes inevitably cause this impact.” They indicated that local school administrators make decisions on tenure, dismissal and exceptions to seniority-based layoffs, and the plaintiffs could have sued over how districts administered the laws, but chose not to.

In their dissents, justices Liu and Cuéllar wrote that the appeals court “sets too high a threshold in concluding that an identifiable group of students with common characteristics had to be harmed–the basis for bringing a challenge involving a fundamental right to an education under the state Constitution.” “Difficult as it is to embrace the logic of the appellate court on this issue, it is even more difficult to allow that court’s decision to stay on the books without review in a case of enormous statewide importance,”Cuéllar wrote.

Liu found the same faulty reasoning in his colleagues’ decision not to hear both Vergara and the funding adequacy cases. Both, he wrote, “ultimately present the same basic issue: whether the education clauses of our state Constitution guarantee a minimum level of quality below which our public schools cannot be permitted to fall. This issue is surely one of the most consequential to the future of California.”

Since Vergara was filed, the state legislature defeated several bills to lengthen tenure and change the laws regarding dismissals and layoffs. In June, the state Senate Education Committee defeated a bill that would have added a year of probation, to what was already required, before granting tenure. It was a diluted version of a sweeping bill that had been proposed earlier.

Source: EdSource, 8/22/16, By John Fensterwald

[Editor’s Note: Justice Liu, one of the dissenting justices in Vergara, wrote in dissent:

Despite the gravity of the trial court‘s findings, despite the apparent error in the Court of Appeal‘s equal protection analysis, and despite the undeniable statewide importance of the issues presented, the court decides that the serious claims raised by Beatriz Vergara and her eight student peers do not warrant our review. I disagree. As the state‘s highest court, we owe the plaintiffs in this case, as well as schoolchildren throughout California, our transparent and reasoned judgment on whether the challenged statutes deprive a significant subset of students of their fundamental right to education and violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

Justice Cuellar, who also dissented, said:

… the trial court concluded that a fundamental right was infringed when it was appreciably burdened by statutes protecting grossly ineffective teachers –– and the evidence ―shock[ed] the conscience. There is a difference between the usual blemishes in governance left as institutions implement statutes or engage in routine trade-offs and those staggering failures that threaten to turn the right to education for California schoolchildren into an empty promise. Knowing the difference is as fundamental as education itself. Which is why I would grant review.

Justices Liu and Cuellar also wrote dissents in Campaign for Quality Education.]

Parents, along with former football booster club at Washington state high school, filed suit against state athletic association over sanctions imposed on school’s football program

The Seattle Times reports that Bellevue High School’s (BHS) football parents and the team’s former booster club have filed suit in King County Superior Court against the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA). The suit seeks to overturn sanctions that WIAA imposed on BHS’s football program.

The plaintiffs are listed as the Bellevue Wolverine Football Club, a non-profit booster organization the high school distanced itself from in the wake of a scandal surrounding the team late last year, and the parents of two players. The suit contends that the sanctions are “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the facts and the governing Washington law.”

The suit states that the sanctions were based on an investigation conducted by two former federal prosecutors that disregarded procedures, relied on “inferences and supposition” and found violations inappropriately and with a poor interpretation of state and school-district rules. “Some Bellevue School District officials, as well as many community members, had substantial concerns about the scope and legality of the investigation,” the lawsuit states. “When those concerns were voiced, the investigators branded the community as being uncooperative and drew inferences adverse to the football program.”

John Connors, president of the former booster club, which was never officially disbanded, said: “[w]e and the program as a whole are being punished for our success. We know we have played by the rules and when the suit is finished, everyone else will know it too.”

The lawsuit doesn’t seek any financial compensation. It only asks that sanctions against Bellevue High School be lifted. It targets WIAA, which conducted the 2015 investigation. Co-defendants include the KingCo conference, which imposed a four-year ban on the postseason and booster-club donations for the football team as penalties resulting from the investigation, and the SeaKing District 2, which upheld the sanctions but reduced the playoff ban to two years and allowed the team to appeal the booster-club donations ban starting in 2018. The Bellevue School District is also named as a defendant.

WIAA’s probe found the old booster club had operated with no school or district oversight and made excessive payments of $588,568 to coach Butch Goncharoff and other coaches from 2002 through 2012. It also said the boosters had paid tuition for players attending the Academic Institute, a private learning center described as a “diploma mill,” used by Bellevue athletes.

The lawsuit states that booster-club donations to the Academic Institute did not violate WIAA rules. It states that the club made annual donations “with no strings attached” to the Institute and that the money did not have to go to football players as a prerequisite. Also, the suit states, the booster club paid Goncharoff starting in 2001 for his weeklong work at the private Fort Worden football camp each summer and not during the season.

Source: The Seattle Times, 8/22/16, By Geoff Baker

[Editor’s Note: In June 2016, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Seattle Times reporting that BHS football team booster club president John Connors, former Microsoft CFO and current board member at Nike, was threatening to file a lawsuit to prevent Bellevue School District (BSD) and WIAA  from imposing sanctions on the team. Connors said he saw litigation as an option that would provide the team with due process, “with depositions and subpoenas of information.”

In October 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Citizens’ Voice reporting that Ed Warkevicz, who allegedly helped recruit Berwick Area High School football players, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Berwick Area School District (BASD) for banning him from school district facilities. BASD’s board imposed the ban in June after allegations came to light that Warkevicz was involved in recruiting two brothers to play football for Berwick Area High School (BAHS) and to transfer from Nanticoke Area High School.]

 

 

Florida appellate court upholds dismissal of teachers union’s suit challenging state’s tuition tax credit program

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the Florida District Court of Appeals, First District, has upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a suit brought by a coalition of advocacy groups and individuals led by the Florida Education Association (FEA). The appellate court agreed with the trial court that the suit challenging Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program could not proceed because those suing had no legal standing to do so and had suffered no harm from the program.

According to the First District Court of Appeals, the coalition “quarrel[s] with the Legislature’s policy judgment regarding school choice and funding of Florida’s public schools,” but it is not a matter for the court to wade into.” It concluded that those opposing the program must seek their remedy “at the polls.”

FEA expressed disappointment and frustration with the court’s ruling and said it is considering whether to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. “Once again, the merits of this case aren’t being argued. The court says that teachers and parents and other groups aren’t allowed to challenge the constitutionality of the tax credit vouchers,” said FEA president Joanne McCall. “The courts ruled a previous voucher scheme unconstitutional. Why won’t they let teachers and parents challenge this one?”

The FEA coalition argued that the tax credit program was unconstitutional because it redirects taxpayer money to religious schools and creates a separate system of state-funded schools. However, the appellate court, like the trial court last year, said the program is not funded by direct appropriations from the Florida Legislature so the plaintiffs lacked “taxpayer standing” to challenge the program.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, 8/18/16, By Leslie Postal

[Editor’s Note: The First District Florida Court of Appeal’s opinion held:

Appellants failed to allege that they suffered any special injury as a result of the operation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program and failed to establish that the Legislature exceeded any constitutional limitation on its taxing and spending authority when it authorized the program. At most, Appellants quarrel with the Legislature’s policy judgments regarding school choice and funding of Florida’s public schools. This is precisely the type of dispute into which the courts must decline to intervene under the separation of powers doctrine.] 

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