Articles Posted in Education Law

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M.B., a second-grade student with dyslexia and epilepsy, took her service dog to school to detect and respond to her seizures. In third grade, M.B. switched to the School, which had a specialized program for dyslexic students. M.B.’s mother explained the need for a dog; the principal stated that M.B. was a “good fit.” Later, M.B. was paired with a new service dog, Buddy, but the principal asserted that Buddy would be “too much of a distraction.” Because Buddy was not allowed to accompany her, M.B. had extensive absences in third and fourth grades. In fifth grade, M.B.’s pediatric neurologist recommended that Buddy accompany M.B. at school. The principal then said that another student was allergic to dogs. M.B. missed school for more than two months. The parents of the allergic student informed the principal that they had arranged for allergy treatments and did not want M.B. to be excluded on their son’s behalf. The principal finally agreed that M.B. could return with Buddy in a special therapeutic shirt. The shirt made Buddy overheated and he failed to alert to M.B.’s seizures. At one point, M.B slept on the floor for hours after seizing. M.B. withdrew and enrolled in the local public school, which allowed Buddy to accompany her. M.B. had fallen behind and had to repeat fourth grade. M.B.’s parents sued. The Third Circuit reinstated their Rehabilitation Act claim: As a matter of first impression, despite the absence of a regulation specifically interpreting the RA's mandate of “reasonable accommodations,” the RA generally requires that individuals with disabilities be permitted to be accompanied by their service animals, consistent with the mandate of “reasonable modifications” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Such requested accommodations are per se reasonable. View "Berardelli v. Allied Services Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law

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The district court refused to enjoin the School District from allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with the students’ gender identities rather than the sex they were determined to have at birth. The District required students claiming to be transgender to meet with licensed counselors. There are several multi-user bathrooms; each has individual stalls. Several single-user restrooms are available to all. "Cisgender" students claimed the policy violated their constitutional rights of bodily privacy; Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681; and tort law. The Third Circuit affirmed. Under the circumstances, the presence of transgender students in the locker and restrooms is no more offensive to privacy interests than the presence of the other students who are not transgender. The constitutional right to privacy must be weighed against important competing governmental interests; transgender students face extraordinary social, psychological, and medical risks. The District had a compelling interest in shielding them from discrimination. Nothing suggests that cisgender students who voluntarily elect to use single-user facilities face the same extraordinary consequences as transgender students would if they were forced to use them. The cisgender students were claiming a broad right of personal privacy in a space that is just not that private. The mere presence of a transgender individual in a bathroom or locker room would not be highly offensive to a reasonable person. View "Doe v. Boyertown Area School District" on Justia Law

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Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an administrative due process complaint about a child's educational placement can result in an administrative hearing. At least 10 days before the hearing, the school district can extend a “10-day” settlement offer, 20 U.S.C. 1415(i)(3)(D)(i)(I)-(III). That offer limits a parent’s eligibility for attorney’s fees to only those fees accrued before the offer. If a parent rejects the offer, the parent may only receive attorney’s fees for work done after the offer if the hearing leads to more favorable relief than the offer included, or the parent was substantially justified in rejecting the offer. Rena filed a complaint against the Colonial School District to determine an appropriate placement for her daughter. Colonial extended and Rena rejected a 10-day offer. After a hearing, an administrative officer ordered a private school placement for the student. The district court awarded Rena attorney’s fees only for work performed before the offer. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that Rena was substantially justified in rejecting Colonial’s offer. Colonial made a valid offer of settlement and Rena did not receive more favorable relief in the administrative order but she was substantially justified in rejecting the offer because it did not address attorney’s fees. View "Rena C. v. Colonial School District" on Justia Law

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Wellman, a Butler Area high school, freshman suffered head injuries while playing flag football in a physical education class, during football practice, and during a game. Despite a concussion diagnosis and requests from Wellman’s mother and doctor, the school refused to provide any accommodation. A CT scan revealed post-concussive syndrome. The school was unresponsive. Wellman received homebound instruction through his sophomore year. The school denied Wellman an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). For junior year, he enrolled in private school, from which he graduated. Wellman filed a due process complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Education. In a settlement, Wellman released the District from all claims which could have been pursued under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400; the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); or any other statute. Wellman then filed suit under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12132, and 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging equal protection violations. The Third Circuit remanded for dismissal with prejudice, citing the Supreme Court’s 2017 "Fry" opinion, which requires that courts consider the “gravamen” of the complaint to determine whether a plaintiff seeks relief for denial of the IDEA’s core guarantee of a free and appropriate education (FAPE); if so, then the plaintiff must exhaust his IDEA administrative remedies. Wellman released all claims based on the denial of a FAPE and has no claims to exhaust. View "Wellman v. Butler Area School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are parents of children with disabilities who were enrolled at the Charter School, which did not consistently satisfy its Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) obligations to provide the children with a “free appropriate public education,” 20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(1)(A). In 2014, the School entered with Plaintiffs into settlement agreements. The School was to fund compensatory education for each child and contribute toward Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees. The School permanently closed in December 2014 and never met its obligations under the agreements. Plaintiffs filed administrative due process complaints with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, alleging that the Department should provide compensatory education. The hearing officer dismissed the complaints. Plaintiffs then sued the School and the Department, seeking reversal of the administrative decisions dismissing their claims, remand, and attorneys' fees and costs. Aside from the requested award of fees and costs, Plaintiffs obtained all of the relief they sought. On remand, Plaintiffs and the Department agreed on the number of hours of compensatory education. Plaintiffs unsuccessfully sought attorneys’ fees. The Third Circuit reversed, rejecting the district court’s reasoning that the Plaintiffs received only interlocutory procedural relief and were not prevailing parties. Success on a claim for procedural relief can constitute “a victory ‘on the merits’ that confer[s] ‘prevailing party’ status.” View "H. E. v. Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School" on Justia Law

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Geisinger Medical Center, a private hospital that operates clinical training, partnered with Bloomsburg University, which teaches in the classroom, to establish the Nurse Anesthetist Program. Geisinger provides certificates upon completion of its clinic and Bloomsburg confers Master of Science degrees to students who complete both the coursework and the clinical component. Geisinger’s policies, including its drug and alcohol policy, apply to students participating in the clinic; drug tests “may be administered upon reasonable suspicion of substance abuse,” and any worker “who refuses to cooperate ... shall be subject to disciplinary action, including termination” without pre-termination hearing or process. Geisinger has sole authority to remove an enrollee from the clinical program. The Program's Director, a Geisinger nurse anesthetist, Richer, was a joint employee of Geisinger and Bloomsburg. Richer terminated Borrell, who had previously been a Geisinger RN, for refusing to take a drug test after another nurse reported that Borrell used cocaine and “acted erratically” on a recent trip. Richer had previously “noticed that Borrell appeared disheveled on a few occasions.” Richer claimed he acted as Director of the clinical training portion and that Bloomsburg played no part in the decision. Borrell requested, but did not receive, a formal hearing from Bloomsburg, then filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action. The Third Circuit reversed summary judgment in favor of Borrell, concluding that the defendants were not state actors. View "Borrell v. Bloomsburg University" on Justia Law

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E.R.'s parents and Ridley School District disputed Ridley’s obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400-1482, “individualized education program” (IEP) requirement. An IEP may require the child to be placed in a private school with reimbursement from the school district. E.R.’s parents enrolled her in a private school and sought reimbursement. The hearing officer agreed with E.R.’s parents, rendering E.R.’s private-school placement her “then-current educational placement.” The Third Circuit reversed the hearing officer. E.R.’s parents did not pursue their IEP-related claims but asked Ridley to reimburse them for their private-school expenses between the 2009 administrative decision and the 2012 conclusion of the appeal Ridley declined. E.R.’s parents sued under the IDEA’s “stay put” provision, 20 U.S.C. 1415(j), seeking reimbursement through final resolution of the dispute. The Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s reimbursement order. Ridley’s certiorari petition to the Supreme Court was denied in 2015; Ridley then reimbursed E.R.’s parents. They sought attorneys’ fees under 20 U.S.C. 1415(i)(3)(B)(i). The Third Circuit reversed denial of the motion. A fee award is available to parents who, after unsuccessfully challenging a school district’s proposed educational placement for their child, later obtain a court order requiring the district to reimburse them for the costs of the child’s “stay put” placement—the “then-current educational placement” in which the Act permitted the child to remain while administrative and judicial proceedings were pending. View "M. R. v. Ridley School District" on Justia Law

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Delaware State University hired Dr. Grevious as an associate professor and as a department chairperson in August 2010, with a contract to end in June 2011. Grevious complained that her supervising administrators were impeding her work on reaccreditation based on her gender. In 2011, the University gave Grevious a renewable contract as an associate professor for the 2011- 2012 academic year. Grevious was unable to meet the reaccreditation deadline. The University terminated her term as chairperson. Grevious filed an EEOC charge of discrimination; the investigation was closed for lack of corroborating evidence. The University revoked Grevious’s renewable contract and issued her a terminal contract ending her employment effective May 2012. Grevious claims that the Provost admitted that this was based on the EEOC charge, unrelated to her teaching or professional performance. She filed a second EEOC charge. The Provost denied making such admissions, stating that the decision was based on Grevious’s documented interpersonal conflicts at the University. Grevious sued, alleging retaliation under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-3, and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court rejected her claims on summary judgment. The Third Circuit reversed with respect to her contract revision claim, but otherwise affirmed, holding that at the prima facie stage, a plaintiff need only proffer evidence sufficient to raise the inference that her engagement in a protected activity was the likely reason for the adverse employment action, not the but-for reason. View "Carvalho-Grevious v. Delaware State University" on Justia Law

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Edinboro, a Pennsylvania public university, collaborated with Edinboro University Foundation, a nonprofit entity, to construct new dormitories. In 2008, the Foundation amended its Articles of Incorporation to authorize borrowing funds “to acquire, lease, construct, develop and/or manage real or personal property.” The University leased property to the Foundation in a favorable location; the Foundation issued bonds to raise the funds and completed construction. Since 1989, the University required non-commuting first-year and transfer students to reside on-campus for two consecutive semesters. Two and one-half years after the first phase of the new dormitories opened, the University amended its policy to require certain students to reside on-campus for four consecutive semesters. Businesses that provide off-campus housing sued, asserting that the University and the Foundation conspired to monopolize the student housing market in violation of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. 2. Plaintiffs did not sue the University, conceding that it is an arm of the state subject to Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal. The University’s actions are not categorically “sovereign” for purposes of “Parker” immunity, so the court employed heightened scrutiny, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Hallie v. City of Eau Claire, (1985), which requires anticompetitive conduct to conform to a clearly articulated state policy. The University’s conduct withstands Hallie scrutiny. The Foundation’s actions were directed by the University, so the Foundation is also immune. View "Edinboro College Park Apartments v. Edinboro University Foundation" on Justia Law

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Doe, a second-year student, joined the residency program at Mercy, a private teaching hospital in Philadelphia. Doe alleged the director of that program, Roe, sexually harassed her and retaliated against her for complaining about his behavior. Doe claims that Mercy’s human resources department repeatedly referred Doe to a psychiatrist and eventually told Doe that to remain in the program, she would have to agree to a corrective plan, while Roe’s conduct escalated. Doe received a termination letter. She and Roe appeared before an appeals committee, which upheld Doe’s dismissal. She declined another appeal and quit the program. No other residency program has accepted her, precluding her full licensure. Doe sued two years later, alleging retaliation, quid pro quo, and hostile environment under Title IX of the Education Amendments, 20 U.S.C. 1681. She never filed a charge with the EEOC under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court dismissed, holding that Title IX does not apply because Mercy is not an “education program or activity” and that Doe could not use Title IX to “circumvent” Title VII’s administrative requirements. The court also found Doe’s hostile environment claim untimely. The Third Circuit reversed in part, reinstating Doe’s Title IX retaliation and quid pro quo claims. Mercy’s program is subject to Title IX. Her hostile environment claim is time-barred. View "Doe v. Mercy Catholic Medical Center" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law