Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law

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Plaintiffs, immigrants, ages 18 to 21, fled war, violence, and persecution in their native countries to come to the U.S., arriving here since 2014. International refugee agencies resettled them in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. None are native English speakers. All fall within a subgroup of English language learners: “students with limited or interrupted formal education.” The School District administers numerous schools, including McCaskey High School, a traditional school that includes an International School program for English Language Learners, and Phoenix Academy, operated by Camelot Schools, a private, for-profit company under contract with the District. Phoenix is an accelerated program. Plaintiffs obtained a preliminary injunction, compelling the District to allow them to attend McCaskey rather than Phoenix, to which they had been assigned. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding likely violations of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), 20 U.S.C. 1703(f), which prohibits denial of equal educational opportunity on account of race, color, sex, or national origin. Plaintiffs showed a reasonable probability that Phoenix’s accelerated, non-sheltered program is not informed by an educational theory recognized as sound by some experts in the field; plaintiffs’ language barriers and resulting lost educational opportunities stem from their national origins. View "Issa v. Lancaster School District" on Justia Law

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Pleasant Valley High School wrestling coach Getz allegedly assaulted team member C.M. and discriminated against C.M.’s sister, A.M. based on her gender. Plaintiffs alleged that during practice, C.M. was forced to wrestle a larger student, who threw him through the doors into the hallway and punched him. After Getz prodded C.M. to keep wrestling, an altercation ensued, in which Getz lifted C.M. up and “smash[ed] his head and back into the wall.” C.M., A.M., and their mother sued. The School Defendants asserted that discovery showed that Plaintiffs made numerous false statements in the complaint and amended complaint, and their claims lacked merit and that Plaintiffs’ Rule 56.1 statement contained false statements. The district court denied Defendants’ Rule 11 motions as “meritless,” noting that these Rule 11 motions tax judicial resources and emphasizing that the truth of the allegations in a case of this sort is revealed through discovery and addressed at summary judgment or trial, not via motions for sanctions. On interlocutory appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed. The district court appropriately exercised its wide discretion in concluding the motions lacked merit, and were counterproductive as they relied upon factual discrepancies that did not show the claims were patently frivolous. View "Moeck v. Pleasant Valley School District" on Justia Law

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On a January 2013 school day, Christina Regusters entered Bryant Elementary School in Philadelphia, where Jane was enrolled in kindergarten. Regusters went directly to Jane’s classroom, where she encountered Littlejohn, Jane’s teacher. Per School District policy, Littlejohn asked Regusters to produce identification and verification that Jane had permission to leave school. Regusters failed to do so. Littlejohn nonetheless allowed Jane to leave with Regusters. Regusters sexually assaulted Jane off school premises, causing her significant physical and emotional injuries. In the early hours of the next morning, a sanitation worker found the child in a playground after hearing her cries. The district court denied a motion to dismiss a "state-created danger" lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, rejecting an assertion of qualified immunity. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding that the allegations sufficiently stated a constitutional violation of the young child’s clearly established right to be free from exposure by her teacher to an obvious danger. It is “shocking to the conscience that a kindergarten teacher would allow a child in his care to leave his classroom with a complete stranger.” View "L.R. v. Philadelphia Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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S.D. suffers from “multiple medical problems including chronic sinusitis with frequent acute exacerbations, allergic rhinitis, and intermittent asthma” that allegedly “substantially limit him in . . . the life activity of learning.”. S.D.’s doctor concluded that these medical problems “make it likely that he will have frequent school absence[s] due to acute [and] underlying chronic illness,” and suggested that S.D. “should qualify for [Section] 504 plan modifications for school” under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794(a). Dissatisfied with the school’s plan, which involved Saturday sessions and a summer course, his parents sued, citing the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101–12213, the First and Fourteenth Amendments (42 U.S.C. 1983), and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. The district court dismissed for failure to exhaust the administrative process provided for by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1400–1482. The Third Circuit affirmed. While the claims alleged discrimination and retaliation for enforcement of the child’s rights under a non-IDEA statute, the alleged injuries are educational in nature and implicate services within the purview of the IDEA, so administrative remedies must be exhausted. View "S. D. v. Haddon Heights Bd. of Educ." on Justia Law

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Named plaintiffs, 2008-2011 graduates of the Widener School of Law, claim that Widener violated the New Jersey and Delaware Consumer Fraud Acts by intentionally publishing misleading statistics, reporting that in 2005-2011, 90-97% of graduates were employed. In reality, only 50-70% of Widener graduates secured full-time legal positions. The school included non-legal and part-time positions without reporting the breakdown. In 2011, Widener improved its reporting, but allegedly continued to gather unreliable information by crediting secondhand accounts of employment and avoiding responses from unemployed graduates. The plaintiffs claim that publishing misleading statistics enabled Widener to inflate tuition. The plaintiffs moved to certify a class of “persons who enrolled in Widener University School of Law and were charged full or part-time tuition within the statutory period.” The district court denied class certification, finding that the plaintiffs could not meet FRCP 23(b)(3)’s requirement that common questions “predominate” over individual questions because they had not shown that they could prove damages by common evidence. The court noted differences in class members’ employment outcomes and that New Jersey has rejected a “fraud-on-the-market” theory outside the securities fraud context. Plaintiffs could not meet Rule 23(a)(3)’s requirement that the named plaintiffs’ claims be “typical” of the claims of the proposed class; students who enrolled in 2012 and later, after Widener improved its reporting, might prefer not to have Widener’s reputation tarnished by the lawsuit. The Third Circuit affirmed. The plaintiffs’ theory was insufficiently supported by class-wide evidence. View "Harnish v. Widener Univ. Sch. of Law" on Justia Law

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In 1956, the New Kensington Eagles donated to Valley High School a six-foot granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments, an eagle, an American flag, the Star of David, the Chi-Rho symbol, a Masonic eye, and Hebrew and Phoenician lettering. It is near the gymnasium entrance, which is accessible from the student parking area. In 2012, FFRF, an organization dedicated to promoting separation of church and state, unsuccessfully requested the monument's removal. Schaub saw a story on television and contacted FFRF. Schaub had visited Valley and seen the monument while taking her daughter to a karate event, picking the girl up from the swimming pool, and dropping off her sister, whose child attends Valley. Schaub’s daughter was to attend Valley beginning in August 2014. Schaub views the monument as “commanding” students and visitors to worship “thy God,” brands her as “an outsider because [she] do[es] not follow the particular religion or god that the monument endorses,” and makes her “stomach turn.” She wishes to raise her daughter without religion. While a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 was pending, Schaub’s daughter began attending a different high school. The district court granted the District summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed. Schaub has standing to seek nominal damages and injunctive relief, and her request for injunctive relief was not moot. With respect to FFRF’s claims, the court remanded for consideration of whether Schaub was an FFRF member when the complaint was filed. View "Freedom From Religion Found. v. New Kensington Arnold Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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After attending a parochial school, G.L. entered high school in the Ligonier Valley District in 2008. At an open house shortly after he started, G.L.’s teacher told his father that G.L. seemed distracted and lacked organizational skills. G.L.’s father orally requested that the District evaluate G.L. for special education needs. No evaluation was conducted and, following a car accident in which G.L. lost his sister, the District purportedly investigated whether G.L. lived within its boundaries. That investigation confirmed the District’s obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to provide G.L. a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Little was done to deal with G,L.’s struggles or alleged bullying, while the District repeatedly investigated residency. His parents withdrew G.L. from the school in March 2010. Within two years (the limitations period set forth in 20 U.S.C. 1415(f)(3)(C)), G.L.’s parents filed a due process complaint, alleging that the District denied him a FAPE and requesting compensatory education for September 2008 through March 2010. A hearing officer adopted a two-year remedy cap, compensating only injuries that occurred within two years of the filing date, regardless of whether filing occurred within two years of reasonably discovering older injuries. The Third Circuit disagreed and remanded, concluding that section 1415(b)(6)(B) is simply an inartful attempt to mirror the two-year statute of limitations. View "G L v. Ligonier Valley Sch. Dist" on Justia Law
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E.M. is a student at the Learning Center for Exceptional Children (LCEC), a private school for children with intellectual disabilities. E.M.’s federally-mandated individualized education plan created by her parents, teachers, and local public-school system—says that she should attend LCEC and integrated classes with students from Today’s Learning Center (TLC), a private school for regular-education students that shares classroom space with LCEC. The New Jersey Department of Education asserts that it has not approved LCEC or TLC to teach integrated classes of regular-education students and students with disabilities. The Department directed LCEC to confirm that it would not place its public-school students with disabilities in classrooms with private-school regular-education students. LCEC agreed under protest. E.M.’s parents and LCEC obtained preliminary injunctive relief under the so-called “stay-put” rule of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1412, which allowed her to attend classes with TLC’s regular-education students during the pendency of the case. The Third Circuit remanded with the injunction intact for additional fact finding, including whether other educational alternatives are available to E.M. View "D. M. v. N.J. Dep't of Educ." on Justia Law
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Munroe was an English teacher, generally considered to be effective and competent. The District granted Munroe tenure in 2010. In 2009, Munroe began a blog, using the name “Natalie M.” She did not expressly identify where she worked or lived, the name of the school or the names of her students. According to Munroe, her blog was meant to be viewed by friends that she had asked to subscribe. There were fewer than 10 subscribed readers, but no password was required for access. Most of the blog posts were unrelated to her school or work. Some postings included complaints about students, her working conditions, and related matters. The District administration first learned of Munroe’s blog in February 2011 when a reporter from a local newspaper began to ask questions; students apparently were commenting on social media.” Munroe was placed on paid suspension and, later, fired. The District had no regulation specifically prohibiting a teacher from blogging on his or her own time. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of Munroe’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit; under the Pickering balancing test, Munroe’s speech, in both effect and tone, was sufficiently disruptive so as to diminish any legitimate interest in its expression, and did not rise to the level of constitutionally protected expression. View "Munroe v. Central Bucks Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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Juanya, age 15, participated in a mandatory swimming class run by his physical education teacher, Rodgers. Juanya, a non-swimmer, was submerged for a few seconds, possibly inhaling or swallowing water. Juanya exited the pool and told Rodgers that his chest hurt. Rodgers told Juanya to sit on the bleachers. Several minutes later, Rodgers went over to check on Juanya, who requested to remain out of the pool for the rest of class. Rodgers denied the request. Juanya followed instructions and stayed in the shallow end for the remainder of the period. In his next class, nearly an hour and a half after leaving the pool, Juanya fell backward and hit the desk behind him. As he rolled off his chair and onto the floor, he had a seizure. A school nurse attempted to revive Juanya. Paramedics took Juanya by ambulance to a hospital, where he died that day, apparently of a rare form of asphyxiation called “dry” or “secondary drowning.” Juanya’s mother sued Rodgers and the Bethlehem Area School District, under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Rodgers moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity, which the court denied. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that Rodgers’s conduct did not violate a clearly established constitutional right, View "Spady v. Bethlehem Area Sch. Dist." on Justia Law