Federal district court dismisses female student’s Title IX suit involving district’s refusal of mid-year request for transfer to honors math class
Pungitore v. Barbera, No. 11-CV-6249 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 2012)
Abstract: A federal district court in New York state has granted a school district’s motion to dismiss a student’s Title IX suit, which alleges that the school district had previously refused to grant her a mid-year transfer to an accelerated math program. In regard to the student’s request for injunctive relief, the court found that she lacked standing because she could not show she suffered an injury in fact. As to her request for damages, it found her factual allegations insufficient to raise an inference of gender bias required by Title IX.
Facts/Issues: During the 2010-11 school year, SP was an eighth grade middle school student in Ramapo Central School District (RCSD), where she was enrolled in an honors algebra class. Early in that school year, SP found the honors class insufficiently challenging, and asked her parents if she could transfer into the middle school’s double accelerated honors math class (“FVS program”). SP and her parents met with Travis Jackson, the school guidance counselor, and later with RCSD Assistant Superintendent Judy Barbera to discuss the transfer request. In December 2010, Jackson informed SP and her parents that Barbera did not believe the FVS program was a viable option for SP at that time. SP’s parent objected to that decision.
Jackson later invited SP to sit in on a FVS class to observe. Afterwards, SP told her mother that the FVS teacher, Brian Schwartz, was “condescending and unreceptive to her attendance that day,” stating that SP was only in the class “because her mother got her in.”
After administering a practice test to evaluate SP’s mastery of the algebra curriculum, RCSD subsequently determined it was in SP’s best academic interest to finish the honors algebra class in which she was then-enrolled, and move into the FVS program at the beginning of the next school year. After Jackson informed the parents that SP would not be able to transfer into FVS program at that time, they met with Barbera and the former superintendent to discuss the decision. The parents stated during the meeting that the then-current FVS students were all male and that Schwartz’s treatment of SP during the class was “gender discrimination.”
At the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, SP, now in ninth grade, enrolled in and remains enrolled in the FVS program.
RCSD filed a motion dismiss SP’s suit for lack of standing to bring a claim for injunctive relief under Title IX. The school district also sought dismissal of her claim for damages under Title IX on the ground she has failed to state a claim.
Ruling/Rationale: The district court agreed with RCSD, and dismissed the suit in its entirety.
To establish standing, SP must show (1) she suffered an “injury in fact”, (2) a causal connection between the injury and the defendant’s conduct, and (3) a federal court decision is likely to redress the injury. The district court stated that SP could not demonstrate that she suffered an “injury in fact,” noting that the injury must be both “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent,” and not “conjectural” or “hypothetical.” SP cannot rely on a past injury, and must show the likelihood of future injury. The district court found that SP cannot show she suffers a present injury, because SP was already enrolled in the FVS program at the time she filed her suit, and continues to be enrolled in that class.
The district court also rejected SP’s argument that she suffered a past injury when her initial transfer request was denied the previous year, and because of that previous denial she fears imminent removal from the current FVS program. The court found SP’s “assertions of imminent injury … speculative and unreasonable.” The court pointed out that there was no “revocation” of placement in the FVS program during her eighth grade year, because SP sought a transfer to the class in the middle of that school year. Because SP is currently enrolled in the class she desires, the FVS program, the district court held that SP could not show a present or future injury.
On her claim for damages, the district court concluded that her factual allegations that RCSD’s refusal to transfer her to the FVS program during the previous school year failed to raise an inference of gender bias. It found that Schwartz’s statement that SP could not participate in the class because “the entire FVS group would be disturbed and impacted by SP’s presence in the class” and Barbera’s denial of the parent’s request that she disclose the FVS placement criteria of the other students in the class because “it is much too complex” and “involved personal information to which [SP] was not entitled” did not support her Title IX claim. On the contrary, it “directly contradict[ed] it.”
Pungitore v. Barbera, No. 11-CV-6249 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 2012)
[Editor's Note: In an April 10, 2012 article on lohud.com, Mareesa Nicosia discusses the district court's dismissal of SP's suit, in which she reports that the suit initially sought almost $4 million in damages for what it called the district’s failure to comply with Title IX, which protects people from discrimination based on gender in educational programs and activities that receive federal funds.
Most Title IX suits involving discrimination in programs offered by schools focus on high school sports. However, Title IX also comes into play when a school district considers or implements single gender classes. A 2004 Inquiry & Analysis article (available only to COSA members) discusses offering single sex (or girls only) classes in math and the sciences as a way of ameliorating gender discrimination. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Education issued regulations and guidance under which school districts may offer single sex classes and extra-curricular activities, and even single-sex schools, under very specific conditions. The program must be (1) voluntary for students; (2) substantially related to achieving one of two important objectives (to improve educational achievement of all students through diverse education opportunities, or to meet the specific, identified educational needs of students); (3) evenhanded -- substantially equal coeducational classes/activities must be available; and so on.
Organizations like the Feminist Majority take issue with single-sex classes and programs, calling them "sex segregation," and asserting that they are more likely to increase sex discrimination than to reduce it. The organization pushing for single sex education is the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, which bases its work on the research of its founder and director, Dr. Leonard Sax.]