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Three parents mount legal challenge to Montana Dep’t of Revenue’s rule excluding religious schools from state’s private school scholarship-tuition tax credit program

The mothers of three students attending private religious schools in Montana have filed suit against the state, according to an  Associated Press (AP) report in the Flathead Beacon, challenging the fact that the Montana Department of Revenue (MDR) adopted a rule that bars religious schools from participating in the state’s private school scholarship – tuition tax credit program. The MDR cites the Montana Constitution’s prohibition on appropriations to religious institutions as the basis for the rule.

Earlier in 2015, Montana enacted a law allowing tax credits for individual donations of up to $150 to private school scholarships or to innovative public school programs. The tax-credit program is capped at $3 million for the first year. The mothers’ lawsuit contends the tax credits are not state appropriations, and MDR did not have the authority to adopt the rule because it contradicts the state legislature’s intention of benefiting all school children. The suit states the mothers’ children are attending Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell, and that the mothers  would apply for scholarships if they were available.

The mothers are represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), a group that has defended school-choice programs in lawsuits in 24 states. “It should be up to parents, not government bureaucrats, to decide what’s best for a child,” said Institute for Justice attorney Erica Smith. “The state’s own Department of Justice has come out saying this is unconstitutional, yet the Department of Revenue went ahead and did it, anyway.”

Montana Solicitor General Dale Schowengerdt submitted comments while the MDR rule was still in draft form that said a judge would likely decide it is unconstitutional to categorically exclude religious entities from a neutral benefits program without reason. “The Attorney General believes that it would not be defensible,” Schowengerdt wrote of Montana Attorney General Tim Fox. Nonetheless, Fox will have to defend the rule in the lawsuit and another expected to be filed in federal court.

MDR officials insist these tax credits are different from others because they are limited by the Montana Constitution’s provisions that prevent the state from making appropriations to religious groups. They also disputed Schowengerdt in a written response to his comments. “The rule does not exclude religious entities from neutral benefits, but limits the donations based on the language of the Montana Constitution,” according to MDR officials.

Source: Flathead Beacon, 12/17/15, By Matt Volz (AP)

[Editor’s Note: In October 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Independent Record reporting that MDR had proposed rules that would exclude religious schools from benefiting from a new law that allows people to take tax credits for donating to public or private schools. MDR’s proposed rules permit tax credits for donations of up to $150 to scholarships for private schools or innovative educational programs at public schools. However, no institution owned or controlled by any church, religious group or faith-based program may receive scholarship money through the tax-credit program, according to the proposed rules.]


Muslim teacher’s federal suit claims New Jersey district fired her for religious reasons

Sireen Hashem, a former teacher at Hunterdon Central Regional High School who is Muslim, has filed suit in federal district court alleging religious discrimination, says nj.com. The suit names Hunterdon Central Regional District Superintendent Christina Steffner, high school Principal Suzanne Cooley, and two teachers who supervised her, Robert Zywicki and Rebecca Lucas as defendants. The suit claims that in addition to terminating Hashem based on her religion, the school board then reported her to the FBI.

According to the suit, FBI agents told Hashem they were investigating a report that she told school board members “they would be sorry” if they didn’t reconsider the decision not to renew her contract as she made a plea to keep her job in June. “This is a teacher, a very qualified and very loved, very competent teacher, working for the benefit of the school. She was humiliated, discriminated against, and dismissed,” Hashem’s attorney, Omar Mohammedi, said.

The suit details two years of interactions between Hashem and those named as defendants leading up to the decision not to renew her contract with the district. Although Superintendent Steffner declined to address the specifics of the suit, citing the confidentiality rights of all employees, she insisted the allegations in the suit against her were untrue and “may even be defamatory.”

The suit states that after the principal received a complaint from a parent, Hashem was called to a meeting where she was told “she could not teach current events in the same manner as her non-Arab, non-Palestinian and non-Muslim colleagues.” The suit also claims that in a September 2014 meeting, Steffner “accused her of not sticking to the curriculum, questioned her about her teaching and how it related to the common core, accused her of discriminating against Jewish students, and also questioned her about her place of birth, her family, and her personal life.”

The final interaction alleged in the lawsuit came when the FBI went to Hashem’s home in Franklin, Somerset County, asking about what she said during the closed-door executive session with the board of education on June 15. Hashem denies making the statement, and in her lawsuit she argues “this erroneous and defamatory allegation must have originated from the defendant board” because it allegedly occurred outside the public meeting.

Source: nj.com, 12/18/15, By Sallie Graziano

[Editor’s Note: In August 2015, Legal Clips summarized a decision by a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit three-judge panel in Haji v. Columbus City  Sch. holding that a former employee, who is Muslim, was not retaliated against by an Ohio school district’s officials for exercising his First Amendment free speech rights or retaliated against by those same officials on the basis of his religious beliefs in violation of his Title VII rights. It concluded that even though his protected activity was a motivating factor for terminating his employment with the school districts, officials would have made the same decision to terminate him in the absence of the protected activity. The panel also rejected his Title VII retaliation claim, holding that the employee had failed to present evidence that supported an inference of discriminatory motive in the absence of evidence that similarly situated non-Muslim employees were treated more favorably.]



Chicago district settles pregnancy discrimination suit brought by DOJ on behalf of eight teachers

The Chicago Tribune reports that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has agreed to pay eight teachers at Scammon Elementary School (SES) $280,000 in damages and back pay as part of a settlement agreement to end a discrimination suit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of the teachers. The suit alleged that from 2009 to at least 2012 SES Principal Mary Weaver took actions to oust eight teachers who became pregnant or returned to work after their pregnancies. DOJ asserted that pregnant teachers at SES school received lower performance ratings and were targeted for firing by their principal.

The suit claimed the principal subjected pregnant teachers “to disparate treatment with regard to performance evaluation ratings” and other matters, and “there existed a regular, purposeful, and less-favorable treatment of teachers because of their sex (pregnancies).”

Vanita Gupta, head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said that the school board had taken “an important step toward ensuring that no woman loses her job, faces discipline or endures threats because of her pregnancy.” “Our settlement establishes critical measures to provide a workplace environment free from sex-based discrimination,” Gupta added.

The settlement agreement also requires the school board to send the government quarterly reports identifying “every complaint of discrimination or harassment related to pregnancy, and every related complaint of retaliation” made by a school employee. Under the settlement, the district does not admit to any wrongdoing. The settlement still requires formal approval by a federal judge. A court hearing is scheduled for early January 2016.

“Chicago Public Schools is fully committed to promoting inclusive work environments free of discrimination or mistreatment,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a statement. “We are taking steps to bolster training and policy awareness to ensure every school and office in CPS is a welcoming environment.”

Source: Chicago Tribune, 12/16/15, By Juan Perez Jr.

[Editor’s Note: In March 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in Reuters reporting that the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, agreed with a former driver for United Parcel Service (UPS) by giving her another chance to argue that the package delivery company discriminated against her when it refused to accommodate her request for light duty while she was pregnant. The Court’s majority revived Peggy Young’s discrimination claim against UPS, vacating a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit three-judge panel’s ruling upholding the federal district court’s dismissal of Young’s claim, and remanding the case to the Fourth Circuit panel.

In August 2014, Legal Clips summarized a report from eeoc.gov that indicated that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) had recently issued “Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues,” along with a Question and Answer document about the guidance and a Fact Sheet.  This is the first comprehensive update of the EEOC’s guidance on the subject of discrimination against pregnant workers since the 1983 publication of a Compliance Manual chapter on the subject. The EEOC stated that this guidance supersedes that document and incorporates significant developments in the law during the past 30 years.]


Colorado appellate court rules that nonprobationary teachers stated valid claims challenging the state’s mutual consent provision under the state constitution’s contract clause and due process clause

Masters v. School Dist. No.1, No. 14CA1348 (Colo. App. Nov. 5, 2015)

Abstract: A Colorado Court of Appeals three-judge panel has ruled that amendments to Colorado’s Teacher Employment, Compensation, and Dismissal Act (TECDA), which eliminate the guarantee to any displaced nonprobationary teacher of a new position (i.e. the “forced placement” system) and replaces it with the “mutual consent “procedure, thereby authorizing local school districts to place any displaced nonprobationary teacher who fails to secure a “mutual consent” position within 12 months or two hiring cycles, whichever is longer, on unpaid leave, violates the Colorado Constitution’s contract clause and due process clause. It concluded that the TECDA, like its predecessor the Teacher Employment, Dismissal, and Tenure Act (TEDTA), created a contractual relationship between local school districts and their nonprobationary/tenured teachers. It, thus, concluded nonprobationary teachers had a valid contracts clause claim.

The intermediate appellate court likewise found that under the TECDA, like its predecessor TEDTA, a nonprobationary/tenure teacher is entitled to a hearing before being placed on unpaid leave. It determined that although not dismissed for cause, nonprobationary teachers placed on unpaid leave have their expectation of continued employment disappointed because they are not working and do not collect their salaries during the indefinite period of leave. As a result, it concluded that nonprobationary teachers placed on unpaid leave without being afforded a hearing had stated a valid due process claim.

Facts/Issues: In 2010, the Colorado General Assembly amended the TECDA via Senate Bill 10-191 (SB 191). SB 191 maintained TECDA’s provisions that nonprobationary teachers may only be dismissed for specified reasons and only after an opportunity to be heard. Before SB 191 was passed, TECDA required a school district to find a new position for a displaced nonprobationary teacher, and the receiving school was required to accept the teacher. This was known as “forced placement.”

Through SB 191, the legislature replaced this procedure with a “mutual consent” procedure whereby a displaced nonprobationary teacher may be assigned to a position at another school only with the receiving principal’s consent and input from at least two teachers at the school. SB 191 authorized the school district to place on unpaid leave any displaced nonprobationary teacher who has not secured a mutual consent position in the district within twelve months or two hiring cycles, whichever is longer.

The plaintiffs, nonprobationary teachers, filed suit in state district court alleging a violation of the Colorado Constitution’s contract clause, art. II, § 11. Specifically, they argued that TECDA created contracts between nonprobationary teachers and their employing school districts, and such teachers therefore have vested rights to TECDA’s employment protections. Plaintiffs claimed that TECDA’s challenged mutual consent provisions substantially impair those contractual rights insofar as they allow school districts to place nonprobationary teachers on unpaid leave without cause or a hearing.

The plaintiffs also alleged a violation of the Colorado Constitution’s due process clause, art. II, § 25. Specifically, they claimed that TECDA’s for-cause dismissal protections create a protected property interest in nonprobationary teachers’ continued employment. From this, plaintiffs alleged that the challenged mutual consent provisions deprive such teachers of this property interest insofar as they permit school districts to place them on unpaid leave without a hearing, which, plaintiffs claimed, amounts to an effective discharge.

The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss both claims. It concluded that TECDA confers no contractual rights. Regarding the due process clause claim, it concluded that the mutual consent provisions, insofar as they allow school districts to place nonprobationary teachers on indefinite unpaid leave without a hearing, were neither unconstitutional on their face nor as applied.

Ruling/Rationale:  The Court of Appeals panel reversed the district court’s decision dismissing the contract clause and due process clause claims. Noting that there was no Colorado caselaw holding TECDA creates any contractual rights, it pointed out the Colorado Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that TEDTA created contracts between school districts and their teachers.

The panel found that even though “TEDTA and TECDA are not identical, both protect nonprobationary, or tenured, teachers from dismissal without cause.” It stated that it could not discern any “differences between them sufficient to render the Marzec line of cases inapplicable to the determination in this case of whether TECDA creates a contractual relationship.” It, therefore, concluded that the “plaintiffs have, in this case, overcome the presumption that statutes do not create contracts.”

The panel rejected the defendants’ argument that enactment of the TECDA demonstrated that the legislature was moving away from the creation of contractual rights to continuous employment. It pointed out that the term tenure is not “legally distinguishable” from nonprobationary in regard to a contractual relationship. According to the panel: “In our view, the Marzec line of cases compels the conclusion that such a relationship exists, which satisfies this first inquiry.”

The panel next addressed the plaintiffs’ due process challenge to SB 191’s mutual consent provision. It agreed with “the plaintiffs that the legislature left unaltered TECDA’s for-cause dismissal provisions, which give rise to a protected property interest in continued employment.” However, it found that being placed on unpaid leave is not the same as being dismissed. It said, “Unpaid leave is distinct from dismissal, and TECDA treats the two categories differently.” As a result, the panel concluded that “teachers who have been placed on unpaid leave have not effectively been discharged or dismissed from their teaching positions.”

The panel then turned to the remaining question of whether there is any source of Colorado law under which a nonprobationary teacher is entitled to a hearing before being placed on unpaid leave. It concluded that the Colorado Supreme Court decision in Howell v. Woodlin Sch. Dist. R-104, 596 P.2d 56, 60 (1979), provided that source. In Howell, “The supreme court determined that TEDTA’s provisions allowing a tenured teacher to be dismissed “when there is a justifiable decrease in the number of teaching positions” was unconstitutional as applied absent a hearing.”

Based on the reasoning in Howell, the panel held that “before being placed on unpaid leave, nonprobationary teachers have a due process right to a hearing in which the teacher may attempt to show that the purported reason for which he or she was placed on unpaid leave was not the actual reason or that the placement was effected in an arbitrary or unreasonable fashion.” It reversed the district court’s ruling, and remanded the case with the following instructions:

These proceedings include deciding, in an appropriate procedural context, (1) whether the previously unaddressed elements of a contract clause claim have been met by the plaintiffs, and (2) the ultimate question of whether a valid contract clause claim has been stated or has been proved under the rules set forth in Justus.

Masters v. School Dist. No.1, No. 14CA1348 (Colo. App. Nov. 5, 2015)

[Editor’s Note: In January 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Gazette reporting the Colorado Education Association (CEA) had announced that it was filing a lawsuit challenging the validity of parts of the state’s education reform law, specifically “proven flaws in the mutual consent provision of Senate Bill 191 that allows school districts to remove qualified teachers from the classroom.” Among other things, SB191 implements a new high-stakes teacher evaluation system that is based in part on student performance and test scores. The evaluation system allows for the dismissal of a tenured teacher when performance is low and for other reasons.  The teacher can only be placed in a new school if there is mutual consent between the school principal and the teacher.]



New York state’s Board of Regents adopts panel’s recommendation urging the governor to appoint state monitor with power to veto East Remapo school board’s decisions

According to The Journal News,  a three person panel’s recommendations regarding East Remapo school district have been adopted by the New York state’s Board of Regents. After the panel presented its findings detailing how the district has been beset with turmoil and poor management, the Board of Regents unanimously approved the recommendations.

The panel recommended that the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo be urged to install a state monitor with the power to veto the school board’s decisions. Other recommendations include a direct source of state aid, an independent election monitor for school board elections, a mechanism that would ensure that the parent of a public-school student serves on the school board and reforming the district’s busing policies.

The district has about 32,000 students, but roughly 24,000 of them attend private schools, mostly Orthodox Jewish yeshivas. “As a result of this confluence of factors, the tensions in East Ramapo have grown into a chasm, full of anger and mistrust, and the District’s students have continued to suffer the effects,” the report states.

The school board is controlled by Orthodox Jews, who have been accused of directing resources to the private schools at the expense of the district’s 8,000 public-school students, who are mainly black and Hispanic.

Reacting to the recommendations, the East Ramapo school board said it’s “surprised” at the veto-power-monitor recommendation, saying that had not been part of the discussions. Yehuda Weissmandl, the board’s president, said the board has “worked diligently over the last year” to improve the troubled district and believed that it and the panel’s leader, Dennis Walcott, were on the same page. Weissmandl said the push for a monitor would only “reprise the divisions and strife” that the sides have tried to close as they fight over the resources for public and private-school students.

In the report, the monitors note that over the past decade the private-school population in East Ramapo has increased by 43%. Meanwhile, the public schools mainly compromise poor minority students: 84% are economically disadvantaged and 29% are English language learners. “These rapidly changing demographics reflect not only the great diversity of East Ramapo but also underlie enduring tensions between the private and public school communities,” the report states.

Source: The Journal News, 12/14/15, By Joseph Spector

[Editor’s Note: In July 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Rockland County Times reporting that a suit filed by Advocates for Justice (AJ), in 2012, in federal district court on behalf of parents, students, and taxpayers against East Ramapo Central School District (ERCSD) is still pending. The suit, captioned Montesa v. Schwartz, Docket No. 12-cv-06057, accuses ERCSD’s board of selling school property below market prices for private school use, problems with special education funding and buying religious textbooks, all of which AJ contends demonstrate a religious bias by the board’s majority Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish members.]


Nebraska athletic association drafts transgender student policy that requires proof of hormone therapy or surgical procedures to alter the student’s gender

The Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) has issued a draft policy addressing the participation of transgender students in high school sports and other activities, reports the Omaha World-Herald, that would put the initial decisions in the hands of parents and local school districts. It would also require a “rigorous” process that takes into consideration hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery before a transgender student would be allowed to participate in sports, unlike some other states that only require that parents or a physician to attest to a child’s gender identity.

Jim Tenopir, the executive director of the NSAA, said the proposed policy was drafted with “Midwestern values” in mind, and after hearing little consensus from civil rights, religious and other groups about the proper policy. “We’re in a fairly conservative area of the country,” Tenopir said. “We wanted to assure a level playing field, assure competitive balance and protect the safety of young people and address personal privacy interests of all students.”

The NSAA’s board of directors voted 6-1, with one abstention, to give the proposal initial approval. The board will meet again on Jan. 14, 2016 to consider final approval. Nebraska is one of about 20 states that has no formal state policy on such sports participation. Some states, like Iowa, require that a student “consistently” identify with a gender different from their gender at birth. Others are more strict, requiring sports participation to be based on a student’s gender at birth, regardless of their current gender identity.

The draft NSAA policy calls for a transgender student to demonstrate “a consistent gender identity” through written statements from family and doctors and medical documentation of any hormone therapy or surgeries. There are stricter requirements for students who were born male but now identify as female and want to play a girls sport. They must have undergone hormone therapy for at least a year or undergone gender reassignment procedures, and show that they do not have physical advantages, such as more muscle mass, over students born female.

An official with the ACLU of Nebraska, however, said the draft NSAA policy, while still being reviewed, was “not consistent with best practices from a legal or policy standpoint.” “If this policy is adopted, the NSAA and individual school districts could face costly, lengthy civil rights litigation or other repercussions like the loss of federal funds for treating transgender students in a discriminatory manner,” said Amy Miller, ACLU’s legal director.

ACLU of Nebraska provided a guidebook to the NSAA about protecting the rights of transgender students and their parents. The organization also warned that any policy that denies participation of a transgender student in sports would be in violation of Title IX, the federal policy that prohibits discrimination based on sex. The ACLU recommended a policy that allowed local school administrators to determine if a transgender student had legitimately changed their gender identity, and to base that decision on statements from the student and parents.

Meanwhile, the Nebraska Catholic Conference submitted a proposed NSAA bylaw change earlier this fall that would require transgender students to participate in sports based on their gender at birth. The proposal, and an amended proposal basing gender on what’s listed on a driver’s license, will be debated during six district NSAA meetings next month.

Source: Omaha World-Herald, 12/10/15, By  Paul Hammel

[Editor’s Note: In September 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Norfolk Daily News reporting that the NSAA was moving forward with drafting a policy that governs participation by transgender athletes. NSAA’s action was prompted by at least two transgender students having expressed interest in participating in winter sports this year, according to NSAA Executive Director Jim Tenopir.]


Principal at North Dakota high school rejects photograph for yearbook of student holding a rifle

Fargo North High School Principal Andy Dahlen rejected Josh Renville’s yearbook photo selection because it shows him shouldering a rifle, says NBC News. Charlie Renville, Josh’s father, said the picture was “no different then (sic) the pictures in the school library of soldiers during anyone of our nations (sic) wars,” but said Dahlen had claimed the picture would not be allowed in the yearbook because “it’s the law.” According to the father, the photo is under review by the school district’s superintendent, Dr. Bob Grosz.

Dahlen said he and Grosz had a meeting with the father to let him know that the picture was under review for admission into the yearbook. Grosz, who will make the ultimate call, is “doing some research this morning of our own practices and policies,” Dahlen said. “When you’re looking whether it’s appropriate or not … I had a gut instinct that it was not” because weapons aren’t allowed on school property, Dahlen said. He added that in past years, yearbooks may have featured photos of students hunting, but “we live in a different time now.”

The principal said he knew the photo would cause a stir “partly because of the family that was submitting it, and partly because it’s a polarizing topic.”

Source: NBC News, 12/11/15, By Elisha Fieldstadt

[Editor’s Note: In May 2015, Legal Clips summarized an article in The WV Record reporting that the mother of a Logan Middle School (LMS) student had filed suit in federal court against the Logan County Board of Education, the board members, the superintendent and a number of LMS staff. The suit alleges that Jared Marcum was forced to remove  a National Rifle Association of American (NRA) pro-Second Amendment t-shirt in order to avoid being suspended. The t-shirt in question bears the NRA logo, the words “Protect your right” and an image of a hunting rifle on it.]


Missouri district’s ban on Confederate flag displays reveals opposing opinions among students

Students at Seneca High School are divided about whether displaying the Confederate flag is appropriate, reports The Joplin Globe. Some students on both sides of the issue have signed petitions about the flag.

Superintendent Jim Cummins said students were told they needed to stop displaying Confederate flags on school property, effective Nov. 30, and that anyone who disobeys could be disciplined. “We’ve addressed it,” Cummins said. “It was causing a disruption in this school. It’s causing a divisiveness. There were petitions being passed around. We’re here to educate.”

School districts premise their bans on the flag on the U.S. Supreme Court 1969 landmark decision in Tinker v. Des Moines for the legal precedent. “The question here would be whether this school has some reason that it can articulate to the public to think these flags are going to lead to fights, walkouts, sit-ins, or other physical events that disrupt the educational process,” said Adam Goldstein, an attorney for the Student Press Law Center.

Cummins said the district consulted its attorney before banning the Confederate flag on school property. Some of the Seneca High School students who were told not to fly the Confederate flag now are flying the Mississippi state flag, which has a Confederate flag in the upper left-hand corner. Superintendent Jim Cummins said the district may look at a parking policy for next year to address students who are flying the Mississippi state flag.

Source: The Joplin Globe, 12/11/15, By Laurie Sisk

[Editor’s Note: Legal Clips summarized an Associated Press article in The Washington Post reporting that The Montgomery County School Board has banned apparel displaying Confederate and other symbols at school. The revised student dress code policy bans apparel that would disrupt a school’s learning environment. Among those symbols banned are clothing displaying Confederate symbols and items denoting neo-Nazi and other hate groups.]


Oregon settles age/race discrimination suit, agrees to pay $60, 000

Reynolds School District (RSD) has agreed to pay James Tardy Jr. $60,000, says The Oregonian, to settle his suit claiming he didn’t get a full-time job because of his age and race. According to the suit, Tardy applied 17 times for full-time custodian jobs in RSD, but was rebuffed each time. The suit points out that all of the district’s custodians are younger than 70 and none of them are black.

The suit states Tardy started working as a part-time substitute custodian for the district in 2007, when he was in his early 70s. It alleges other district employees told him that he needed to retire, and a lead custodian told him that RSD would never hire Tardy because he was “too old.”  Tardy’s lawsuit sought $30,000 in lost wages and benefits, plus $200,000 for “emotional distress, suffering and humiliation.”

The payout break down: $27,000 in wages to Tardy, $13,000 for his emotional distress and $20,000 for attorney’s fees. The settlement agreement states that Tardy can’t again work for the district.

Andrea Watson, RSD spokesman, said, “Reynolds School District did not discriminate in hiring. Our settlement agreement provides that the Reynolds School District expressly denies any of the claims.” She added, “The parties intended to avoid the expense, delay and burden of further litigation and worked to reach a settlement between our liability insurance provider and the plaintiff’s attorney. Mr. Tardy has resigned, and we consider the matter resolved.”

Source: The Oregonian, 12/14/15, By Aimee Green

[Editor’s Note: In June 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article from azcentral.com reporting that the Tempe Elementary School District (TESD) had agreed to pay more than $148,000 to settle an age-discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The settlement payment will go to 49 former employees who retired after April 3, 2008.] 

Baltimore City students warned in advance of possible acquittal of police officer in Freddie Gray homicide trial to keep protests in legal bounds

Facing potential unrest in the wake of a verdict in the first of the Freddie Gray homicide prosecutions against a number of police officers, The Washington Post reports that Baltimore schools officials warned students that they may risk disciplinary action for taking part in certain protest activities, including walking out of class. In a letter to parents, students and community members, Baltimore City Schools chief executive Gregory E. Thornton said, “Students need to understand that we support their right to express their emotions, and that we will facilitate opportunities for them to do so appropriately.” he added, “However, we need to make it clear that student walkouts, vandalism, civil disorder, and any form of violence are not acceptable under any circumstances and that students who participate in such behaviors will face consequences.”

Thornton wrote that the school system’s primary concern is keeping students safe, particularly after the unrest that gripped the city following Gray’s death last spring.  As Thornton’s letter made the rounds on social media on Monday afternoon, many questioned whether his threat of consequences was an effort to silence students’ legal speech and an infringement on their First Amendment rights.

Students who break laws outside of school face sanctions just like anyone else, said Susan Goering, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland. “But students cannot be punished in school for actions that take place out of school, absent some nexus to school activities or in school consequences,” Goering said. “The school system’s letter ignores these rules, and could result in, and seems to be having the effect of, chilling legitimate, peaceful protest activity.”

Goering said that the school system’s letter “assumes that students only want to express their emotions, not rational views about the conduct of police and lack of accountability, and it misses an opportunity to affirmatively engage students who want to be politically engaged on these issues.”

Source: The Washington Post, 12/14/15, By Emma Brown

[Editor’s Note: In August 2012, Legal Clips summarized a decision by The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, in G.D.M. v. Bd. of Educ. affirming the decision of the state Commissioner of Education, ruling that a school district’s regulation barring a student from participating in extracurricular activities for criminal, off-campus conduct is facially overbroad, and exceeds the authority given to school boards under state laws and regulations. The appellate court concluded that the district’s regulation violates state law because it fails to require the board to show that the alleged conduct “materially and substantially interfere[s] with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school.”]



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