Federal appellate court denies Louisiana school district’s request to dismiss suit challenging single-sex classes on the grounds of standing or mootness
Doe v. Vermilion Parish Sch. Bd., No. 10-30378 (5th Cir. Apr. 6, 2011)
Abstract: A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in an unpublished and non-precedential opinion, has denied a school district’s motion to dismiss a parent’s suit on behalf of her daughter challenging the school’s single-sex classroom program on the basis of Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause on the grounds the parent lacks standing to bring the suit or the claims are moot. The panel remanded the case to the federal district court to determine if the student has a personal stake in resolution of the request for injunctive relief applicable to future class years until the issues on the merits are resolved. It also encouraged the parent to forgo any further request for a preliminary injunction in order to expedite a resolution on the merits of the Title IX and Equal Protection Clause claims and, thus, provide the Fifth Circuit with a full record allowing it to conduct a plenary [complete] review.
Facts/Issues: Rost Middle School (RMS) Principal David Dupuis initiated a single-sex classroom program as part of his studies for his doctoral thesis. He later presented the Vermilion Parish School Board (VPSB) with data on academic performance and behavior that showed significant improvement by students placed in single-sex classrooms. The district court found “significant flaws” in Dupuis’ data. VPSB allowed Dupuis to expand the program, which he did by assigning RMS students to single-sex classrooms. After the board learned that the U.S. Department of Education 2006 regulations authorizing public schools to offer single-sex education options under certain circumstances required that such programs be voluntary, it sought to bring the RMS program into compliance with the regulations by making singe-sex classes voluntary.
Jane Doe objected to her two daughters’ assignment to single-sex classes. The older daughter, Joan, remained in a single-sex class, but the younger daughter, Jill, was transferred to a coed class. Doe filed suit in federal district court against VPSB, alleging that the single-sex program violated a number of federal regulations implementing Title IX and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. She filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent continuation of the single-sex classes until a decision on the merits. The district court denied the motion. While it found a number of problems with the program, the district court held that any discrimination by VPSB was unintentional. The court also imposed a 10 step plan on VPSB to implement the program for the 201-11 school year, which sought to correct the problem of unintentional discrimination suffered by students in the coed classes. Doe filed an interlocutory appeal based on denial of her motion for a preliminary injunction. While the appeal was pending Joan graduated from RMS, but Jill remains enrolled at RMS.
Ruling/Rationale: The Fifth Circuit panel affirmed the lower court’s denial of the preliminary injunction. It rejected VPSB’s motion to dismiss the suit on the grounds that Doe lacked standing to bring the suit and her claims are moot. Regarding the plaintiffs’ standing, the panel first noted that VPSB was not contesting that Joan, who was in a single-sex class during the 2009-10 school year and graduated in 2010, had standing to sue. VPSB argued that Jill lacks standing because she is enrolled in a coed class and, therefore, a nonparticipant who has not been injured by the program. Doe countered that Jill is injured by being subjected to a discriminatory practice because VPSB’s single-sex program denies her “the benefit of a true coeducational education.”
The panel determined that Jill’s claim of injury — that the quality of her education was diminished due to the creation of same-sex classes — was enough to confer standing. The court cited Jill’s assertion that both the coed and the same-sex classes are inferior to what would be available were the same-sex program not in place.
Although both parties agreed that the the interlocutory appeal was moot as to Joan because she had graduated from RMS, with respect to Jill it found that there was a clear issue of enjoining single-sex classes at the time of the motion and into the future. As to first and second relevant school years, i.e., 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, it concluded ”that the propriety of injunctive relief … has become effectively moot during the pendency of this appeal.”
In regard to mootness for future school years, the panel determined that the issue hinged on “whether Jill has a personal stake in the resolution of injunctive relief applicable to all future class years until this matter is resolved on the merits.” Because it could not discern from the record whether Jill would continue to attend RMS, whether there will be same-sex classes offered there and, if so, whether they will be in the same form as ordered by the district court for 2010-2011, it concluded that it could not ”determine whether issues are moot regarding the district court’s refusal to issue an injunction to bar same-sex classes that would apply to school years after the one now ending.” The panel, therefore, remanded the case for that determination. ”If the questions are found not to be moot, then what the future holds will also be for the district court to resolve on remand.”
Lastly, the panel found that leaving the mootness issue aside, it could not find enough facts in the record to review the district court’s decision on the preliminary injunction. As a result, the panel left the district court’s order denying Doe’s motion for the preliminary injunction intact.
Doe v. Vermilion Parish Sch. Bd., No. 10-30378 (5th Cir. Apr. 6, 2011)
[Editor's Note: In June 2010, 2TheAdvocate.com reported that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in its challenge of single-gender classes at RMS. In April, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Haik denied the ACLU’s motion to stop single-sex classes at the school and set up a plan for the school to continue the classes in August. DOJ filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of the ACLU’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. A summary of the article is available at the first link below.
The Associated Press (AP) reports in the Greenwich Time that the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (ACLU-LA), which is representing the Does in court, has vowed to continue the litigation over single-sex classes at RMS. ACLU-LA Executive Director Marjorie Esman said, "The program at Rene Rost is based on what the district court even said is extremely flawed data — and they need to correct those flaws." VPSB attorney Calvin Woodruff indicated that the school system has not decided whether to continue the single-sex classes next year, but he said that decision will be based on a review of the program's performance, not the ACLU lawsuit. "We will not forgo (the program) to avoid future litigation," Woodruff said. "We will do what's in the best interest of the students." The AP article is available at the second link below.]
Source: Greenwich Time, 4/8/11, By AP