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Advocacy group threatening Tennessee district with suit over district’s refusal to scrap textbooks with alleged pro-Muslim bias

Nashville Public Radio reports that Citizens Against Islamic Indoctrination (CAII) are demanding that White County School District (WCSD) return textbooks to the publisher that CAII say are biased in favor of Muslims. CAII has threatened to file suit against WCSD for its refusal to scrap the textbooks.

The White County Board of Education (WCBOE) voted unanimously to hire an attorney to represent them in this potential legal battle. According to CAII, the school district is working in secret to approve the textbooks. The school board is receiving support from the group Association for Accurate Standards in Education, whose members reject accusations that the board has acted improperly.

A number of school districts in Tennessee are facing accusations of using textbooks with a pro-Muslim bias. So far only a few districts have agreed to replace the offending textbooks.

Source: Nashville Public Radio, 11/16/15, By Chas Sisk

[Editor’s Note: CAII’s Facebook page claims that the Council on American-Islamic Relations supports WCBOE’s pro-Islam textbook.

In September 2010, Legal Clips summarized an article from AFP reporting that the Texas State Board of Education (TBOE) had passed a resolution to reject any textbooks which paint Islam in too favorable of a light, vowing to curtail what it sees as a “pro-Islam/anti-Christian” bias in school books.]

New Jersey enacts law allowing medical marijuana at school

nj.com reports that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has signed Assembly Bill 4587 (AB 4587) into law. This bill allows parents to give their sick and disabled children edible medical marijuana at school without putting themselves or educators at risk of arrest. However, marijuana possession remains a federal crime, despite the state’s medical marijuana law.

The law will require school boards to adopt a policy that permits parents, guardians and primary caregivers to take edible cannabis on a school bus or to school property to administer to the child. A child must be diagnosed with a developmental disability, and be a registered patient with the state medicinal marijuana program. The legislation swept through both houses of the legislature in June.

Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he is grateful the governor, who signed the bill without making any public comments, saw the need for this law. He is hopeful school districts comply promptly. “If you are on a school board I would hope you are there to represent the children. If you are really looking after the best interest of the child, these are children with severe disabilities, and a medicine that is helping them to reach their maximum potential,” Greenwald said.

Source: nj.com, 11/10/15, By Susan K. Livio

[Editor’s Note: AB 4587 states: “A board of education or chief school administrator of a nonpublic school shall develop a policy  authorizing parents, guardians, and primary caregivers to administer medical marijuana to a student while the student is on school grounds, aboard a school bus, or attending a school-sponsored event.” 

In May 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in nj.com reporting that Roger and Lora Barbour, the parents of Genny Barbour, a student who suffers from epilepsy and autism, are challenging Maple Shade Township Board of Education’s (MSTBOE) refusal to allow their daughter to use medical marijuana at school. School officials insist that it is illegal to administer it to her on school grounds. The Barbours filed an administrative complaint seeking to force MSTBOE to allow Genny to use the marijuana in the same way students take other prescribed medicine while in school.]

North Carolina charter school suspends all student club activities after some in the community complain about school officially recognizing LGBT student club

Lake Lure Classical Academy’s (LLCA) board of directors has voted to suspend all student clubs’ activities, says the Citizen-Times, after some community members complained about a newly formed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) club  at the school. The Rutherford County K-12 public charter school’s board decided to put a hold on all club activity until it can seek legal counsel on club protocol.

Visual arts teacher Layne Long said she allowed a female student to hold the club’s meetings in her classroom and gave the student a poster from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network to display. LLCA School Director Jessica Boland expressed her disappointment in the situation and said the community is the main reason for the controversy. “From the school side, when you are in the school community, the issues aren’t as prevalent as the outside community is making it,” Boland said. “I find it disappointing that we have to suspend all clubs.”

Along with suspending all club activity, the board also adopted a new policy on posters. According to the new policy, all club posters must have a stamp of approval from the school director and can only be placed on designated club bulletin boards on the middle and high school hallways.

Source: Citizen-Times, 11/17/15, By Staff

[Editor’s Note: In February 2013, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Orlando Sentinel reporting that the Lake County School Board (LCSB) was considering adopting new rules that would restrict extracurricular student clubs in secondary schools, as it was faced with a middle school student’s request, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to form a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club.]

California districts respond to advocacy group’s suit over physical education instruction

EdSource reports that 42 of 89 school districts named as defendants in a suit brought by Cal200, which alleges the school districts’ elementary school students do not receive the minimum amount of physical education instruction required by law, are asking the court to dismiss the suit. The school districts argue that Cal200 has no standing to file a case, that it cannot provide evidence of district non-compliance or that it is wrong in its allegations.

The suit alleges that the districts failed to provide elementary school students with a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education instruction every 10 days, as required under the California Education Code. The lawsuit also contends that the California Department of Education (CDE) encouraged districts to falsify data.

According to the suit, CDE employees advised districts that were undergoing Federal Program Review, a federal compliance check on many measures including physical education instruction, to submit falsified paperwork. The suit states CDE employees directed districts to file documents that showed they were providing 200 minutes of physical instruction, even when the classroom teachers’ schedules showed they weren’t. “This, naturally, results in widespread fraud in the area of physical education monitoring,” the lawsuit alleges.

The remaining districts and CDE have yet to file a response with the court. Cal200 reached a settlement this past spring with 37 school districts, that requires the districts to create a publicly visible online tracking system or a paper binder of schedules to allow parents to see when their children are receiving physical education.

Source: EdSource, 11/9/15, By Jane Meredith Adams

[Editor’s Note: In February 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in EdSource reporting that the 37 school districts, named as defendants in a suit brought by advocacy group Cal200, had agreed to a settlement, which will require elementary schools to prove they are providing at least the minimum amount of physical education required by state law. “We think it’s a huge accomplishment and it’s going to benefit public health in California,” said attorney Donald Driscoll, who represented Alameda parent Marc Babin and Cal200. The suit alleged that the school districts were out of compliance with the state’s physical education law.]

Charitable organization plans to file suit claiming New Jersey district owes it over $400,000 for mentoring services

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson and Union Counties (BBBS) plans to file suit against Jersey City school district, says nj.com, alleging the school district owes it more than $400,000 in back payments for a mentorship program that began in 2011. According to BBBS, the school district asked BBBS to provide mentors for students for a minimum of three years starting in 2011 at an annual cost of $232,012, but then halted the program after one year without informing BBBS.

The suit, which BBBS plans to file within the next week, states that the organization continued to provide mentors well into 2014 because various district employees spent 2012 and 2013 leading the nonprofit to believe that the program was still alive. Acknowledging that the school district stopped paying after 2011, the suit claims BBBS thought the unpaid invoices resulted from administrative errors. The group says it was stunned to find out in 2014 that school officials had decided in 2011 to halt the program after one year.

The initial contract, signed in 2010, was for one year, but BBBS’s suit says that school officials had said they envisioned the program lasting for another two years. Jersey City school district spokeswoman Maryann Dicker said BBBS “has been paid by the district for all services they provided under a contract that ended several years ago.” “The current dispute involves many thousands of dollars in payments sought by BBBS for services it allegedly provided by volunteers and others after a contract ended,” Dickar said. “The district has hoped to resolve the dispute, however, settlement has not been reached.”

BBBS is seeking more than $464,024, the annual sum it says it was promised for 2012 and 2013, plus an unspecified amount for work it did in part of 2014. The amount was intended to pay for background checks, teaching materials, recruitment, administrative costs and more, according to the lawsuit.

Source: nj.com, 11/11/15, By Terrence T. McDonald

[Editor’s Note: In November 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Naples Daily News reporting that Collier County Judge Cynthia Pivacek has ruled that Sports C.L.U.B., a local after school care provider, may proceed with its suit against the Collier County school board alleging that the board violated Florida’s open meetings laws. The judge denied the board’s  motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the Sports C.L.U.B. had “sufficiently stated a cause” for relief. The suit alleges that the board members illegally coordinated a vote, ahead of a controversial June 2013 meeting, which authorized schools to offer their own after-school programs. The vote resulted in Sports C.L.U.B. losing six of the schools it served and angered parents who used and liked the service it provided.]




North Carolina district’s board struggles to develop a board meeting prayer policy that will avoid lawsuits

At its most recent meeting, the Cleveland County School Board (CCSB) discussed  a controversial prayer policy proposal, says WCCB Charlotte. For the past month, the school district’s attorney has been drafting a policy that would allow people to pray, but won’t end in a lawsuit for discrimination.

The Cleveland County Christian Law Enforcement Association has been pressing CCSB to begin its meetings with prayer. However,the board is concerned that such a policy could lead to a legal battle paid for by taxpayers.

The proposed policy would allow any religious leader whose congregation meets in Cleveland County to pick a meeting day to pray, but no one is required to participate in the prayer. However, ACLU Director Chris Brook insists that if the prayer takes place at a school meeting, a court would likely find it unconstitutional. “That is because courts are, they’re very skeptical and very concerned about prayer practices that would expose children to potential coercion,” Brook said.

Board members debated banning students from school board meetings in fear of what they might hear, but dropped that suggestion. They did ask the attorney to add a time limit on prayers in the policy. They also want the policy to include a back up plan if a prayer leader didn’t show up on their scheduled day. Finally, they want to allow groups to sign up to pray more than once if all slots are not filled.

The CCSB’s vote on the proposed policy is scheduled for CCSB’s November 23 meeting.

Source: WCCB Charlotte, 11/9/15, By Courtney Francisco

[Editor’s Note: Section 2 of CCSB’s proposed “Policy Regarding Opening Invocations Before Board Meetings”  attempts to avoid endorsement issues by stating: 2. “The invocation shall not be an agenda item for the meeting, and the invocation is not part of the official business of the Board.” In June  2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Post-Tribune reporting that the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana (ACLU-IN) had filed suit in federal court against River Forest Community School Corporation on behalf of Jim and Nichole Bellar and their son, identified as J.B., claiming school officials at River Forest Junior/Senior High School are conducting Christian prayers at school events. The suit alleges that coaches in several sports say prayers before competitions.]         

South Carolina Supreme Court scraps February 2016 deadline for legislative plan to improve state’s public school system

According to The State, the South Carolina Supreme Court has dropped the February 2016 deadline it imposed on South Carolina’s legislature to produce legislation to improve the state’s public school system. Instead, the court has issued a new plan that allows lawmakers to come up with education reforms at their own pace.

Legislators have until a week after next year’s legislative session ends, normally in June, to report to the court any “proposed, pending or enacted” legislation aimed at improving the state’s K-12 public schools. The court’s latest order does not require legislators  to pass any legislation by then, it just asks for a time line to enact proposals. The court said it will review lawmakers’ progress and will issue an order afterward.

The supreme court’s most recent order is the latest development in a 22-year-old school-equity lawsuit brought by poor, rural school districts who sued the state for more money. A year ago, the court ruled the state was failing to meet its constitutional obligation to provide a quality education to children in low-income schools. In response, the state House and Senate formed committees to examine the problems identified by the court and come up with legislative proposals to address them.

Two months ago, the court ordered the legislature to submit a plan by February 2016 for improving those schools. The court said it would then review the proposal. The legislature objected, saying the deadlines did not give it enough time. The members also accused the court of overstepping its constitutional authority by trying to control the legislative process. The school districts, at the legislature’s request, asked the court to change its deadlines.

Source: The State, 11/5/15, By Jamie Self

[Editor’s Note: In November 2014, Legal Clips summarized a decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court in Abbeville Cnty. Sch. Dist. v. State holding that the state’s funding scheme for public schools does not satisfy the South Carolina Constitution’s mandate that the state provide “a system of free public schools that affords each student the opportunity to receive a minimally adequate education.” Even though the majority conceded it could not “suggest methods of fixing” the problem of inadequate education, it “can recognize a constitutional violation when [it] see[s] one.”]  



Lawsuit alleges Tennessee district is segregating special education students in order to receive more state funding

WVLT reports that the parents of a number of special education students have filed suit against Knox County School District (KCSD) alleging that KCSD is intentionally excluding special education students from general education classes because the district receives more state funding if such students are segregated. The suit also names the Tennessee Department of Education (TDE), saying that schools are receiving more state funding for placing students in what is called a more restrictive environment.

Kim Kredich, who is advocating on behalf of the parents, said the suit was filed because federal law mandates that special needs students be placed in a less restrictive environment, but that the school district is intentionally keeping this from happening. “They’re (The Tennessee Department of Education) making it more cost effective to segregate than to include, and that’s the issue in this lawsuit. It’s completely about funding,” she said.

According to Kredich, federal funding mandates that special needs students be kept in the same class as every other student, but because the state gives more money to schools that have special needs students in excluded classes, there is more incentive for the school to segregate the students. She would like to see a shift in that ideology where the schools are offered a larger incentive to keep special needs students included in general classes. She also said that when special needs students are included, not only do they perform better in school, the whole community benefits.

Source: WVLT, 11/4/15, By Kyle Warnke

[Editor’s Note: In July 2012, Legal Clips summarized a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in L.G. v. Fair Lawn Bd. of Educ. affirming the district court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of the school district, holding that it did not violate the least restrictive environment (LRE) requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when it developed an individualized education plan (IEP) that placed a disabled student in a class with other students with the same disability, and did not provide for interaction with non-disabled peers. The Third Circuit agreed with the district court that the IDEA does not require inclusion of students with disabilities in interactions with non-disabled students if the child would not benefit from a less restrictive environment or gain from being around peers modeling appropriate behaviors. The panel also held that the district court’s exclusion of some of the parents’ evidence was not an abuse of discretion when the evidence would have been merely cumulative of what was already in the record.]

Debate over police on-campus heats up after South Carolina incident

The Washington Post reports that school resource officers (SRO) throughout the nation are facing intensifying scrutiny in the wake of an SRO’s violent take down of a student in a South Carolina classroom. Currently, there are 43,000 school resource officers and other sworn police officers, and an additional 39,000 security guards, working in the nation’s 84,000 public schools.The increased number of law enforcement personnel in public schools is attributable to the post-Columbine atmosphere where communities used whatever means possible to guard against threats from drugs, gangs and weapons.

However, having officers present in classrooms and cafeterias has created its own set of concerns — about the criminalization of typical teenage misbehavior, about the discriminatory enforcement of vague laws, and about the excessive use of physical force against children in school spaces where they should be able to feel safe. In the aftermath of the Spring Valley High School incident, some are calling for school districts to explicitly limit police officers’ law enforcement actions in school, while others are calling for schools to get rid of officers. 

Officers and their supporters, on the other hand, point to the role that school police have played in keeping students safe. For example, SROs acting on a student’s tip disarmed another student who had brought a gun to his Utah school in 2014. Serious violent incidents, including rape, attempted rape, robbery and physical attack, occurred in an estimated 13% of U.S. schools in 2013-2014, according to federal data, with 26,000 serious violent incidents reported in those schools. Two percent of the nation’s schools reported fights involving a weapon.

 Civil rights activists and many police officers, as well as the school resource officers group, agree that officers should not be involved in school discipline matters; that should be left to school staff. But nearly 70% of security personnel report that they are involved in discipline. 

More than 64,000 students were arrested at school in 2011-2012, according to federal civil rights data, the most recent available with 30% of those arrests involved black students, although black students accounted for just 16% of the overall student population. In an effort to strike a balance between maintaining safety and avoiding criminalization of typical student misbehavior, some school districts have worked to clarify and limit the role that police officers play.

In San Francisco, the school board signed an agreement with police that limited school resource officers to intervening only in the most serious criminal cases, such as those involving weapons or serious bodily harm. During the past three years, the number of arrests inside schools has been cut in half, from close to 200 to about 90. Matt Haney, vice president of San Francisco’s school board, said that the district has not only reduced arrests, but also has invested in resources to help teachers and administrators create positive school climates in which students know that they are valued and that they have someone to talk to if they are troubled and need help.

Mo Canady, who heads the National Association of School Resource Officers, said that because of the nature of the South Carolina statute, school officials probably were justified in asking the sheriff’s deputy to intervene. “When I was a police officer, the way I had to respond to it was, I don’t write the laws,” Canady said. “I’m just hired to enforce them.”

Source: The Washington Post, 11/8/15, By Emma Brown

[Editor’s Note: In October 2015, Legal Clips summarized a decision by a federal district court in Alabama in J.W. v. Birmingham Bd. of Educ. holding that the school resource officers (SROs) that used chemical spray on students who were accused of minor offenses and offered no resistance to being detained (seized), violated those students’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. It also concluded that the SROs’ failure to decontaminate those students exposed to the spray violated their Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. This summary is limited to a discussion of the district court’s holding regarding the Fourth Amendment claims of excessive force as to the initial spraying and decontamination.]  

Sua Sponte: NSBA and the Texas Association of School Boards Legal Assistance Fund file “friend of the court” brief urging U.S. Supreme Court to uphold University of Texas at Austin’s policy that uses race as a factor in admissions

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) and the Texas Association of School Boards Legal Assistance Fund (TASB LAF) have filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on the merits in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, No. 14-981. The brief urges the Supreme Court to uphold the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit holding that the university’s admissions policy, which uses race as a factor in determining which applicants will be offered admission to the school, is consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The NSBA/TASB LAF brief makes two arguments in response to the question presented: Whether the Fifth Circuit’s re-endorsement of the University of Texas at Austin’s use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions decisions can be sustained under the Court’s decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, including Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 133 S. Ct. 2411 (2013).

The brief first argues that the interest in diversity is compelling  throughout the education system, including elementary and secondary schools. The diversity argument is divided into three sub-arguments: (1) Preventing racial isolation and creating a diverse student population are compelling interests; (2) Education within a diverse student body provides lifelong benefits to all students; and (3) Stubborn and growing residential segregation heightens the need for diversity in education.

The brief next argues that when colleges pursue qualitative diversity through a holistic review process, it furthers the compelling interest in diversity across the education spectrum. This argument is divided into two sub-arguments: (1) Qualitative diversity programs at the university level reinforce school districts’ efforts to achieve integrated elementary and secondary education; and (2) Restricting universities to mechanical race-neutral alternatives would undermine diversity programs in elementary and secondary schools.

In NSBA’s press release announcing filing of the brief, Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel said, “The Court’s ruling has the potential to affect all public schools seeking to promote diversity. We urge the Court to uphold the precedence set by current Supreme Court standards and maintain public schools’ ability to adopt and implement diversity policies that promote educational goals.”

Commenting on the brief, Francisco M. Negrόn, Jr., NSBA Associate Executive Director and General Counsel, said, “The Court should affirm its longstanding principles and uphold the decision of the Fifth Circuit. The university sought to achieve educational benefits that come with a diverse student population, and appropriately narrowed its admissions policy to help achieve that goal.”

In addition to NSBA and TASB LAF, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), American School Counselors Association (ASCA), Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO International), National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and PDK International joined the brief. The brief was written by Pratik A. Shah, Hyland Hunt, and Adam N. Tabor of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP of Washington D.C.

After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas at Austin’s admissions policy in 2013, it remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit for further proceedings. In July 2014, Legal Clips summarized the Fifth Circuit’s decision.  In a 2-1 split, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the undergraduate admissions policy of the University of Texas at Austin (UT) does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

The Fifth Circuit panel majority, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s instructions, subjected UT’s admissions policy to a rigorous “strict scrutiny” analysis. It concluded that to “deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience in contradiction of the plain teachings of Bakke and Grutter.” It found that UT’s “holistic review”, in which race is considered as one of a number of factors, “is a necessary complement to the Top Ten Percent Plan, enabling it to operate without reducing itself to a cover for a quota system; that in doing so, its limited use of race is narrowly tailored to this role — as small a part as possible for the Plan to succeed.”  

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