Articles Posted in Education Law

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When McKinney was granted tenure in 1974, his employment was governed by University Policies that provide that tenured faculty can be terminated only “for cause” and provide yearly salary raises for faculty who perform satisfactorily or meritoriously. Any salary increase for “maintenance” or merit becomes part of the base contract salary. No explicit provisions govern salary decreases; the Policy provides procedures to address complaints about salary decisions and requires that a faculty member “judged unsatisfactory” be informed of specific reasons related to teaching ability, achievements in research and scholarship, and service. In McKinney’s 2010 and 2011 reviews, Dean Keeler expressed concern about declining enrollment in McKinney’s classes, poor student evaluations, and a stagnant research agenda, but granted standard 2.0% and 1.5% maintenance increases. In 2012, McKinney ranked last among the Grad School faculty and was rated “less than satisfactory.” McKinney’s salary was increased by 0.5%. He was told that if his performance did not improve, he could receive a salary reduction. McKinney again ranked last in the 2013 review. Dean Keeler reduced his salary by 20%. McKinney sued, alleging that the University unconstitutionally deprived him of his property interest in his base salary. Reversing the district court, the Third Circuit concluded that he had no such property interest. The Policy language is not sufficient to give McKinney a “legitimate expectation” in the continuance of his base salary. The appeal provisions and the three-tiered rating structure indicate that salaries are subject to “possible annual adjustments,” and that McKinney had no more than a “unilateral expectation of receiving [his] full salary,” View "McKinney v. University of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

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In 2010, G.S., his parents, his sisters, and his paternal grandparents moved into a home in Rose Tree School District. The children attended Rose Tree schools. In 2014, G.S.’s parents lost the home. The family moved in with his maternal grandmother, outside the district. G.S. slept in the living room with his parents and sisters. Rose Tree deemed G.S. homeless and continued his enrollment under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. 11432(g)(3)(A)(i). G.S. was involved in a disciplinary incident. G.S.'s parents challenged Rose Tree's suspension of G.S. and threats of expulsion. In a settlement Rose Tree agreed to pay for G.S. to attend a school outside of its jurisdiction in 2015–16; G.S.’s parents agreed to waive all claims through August 2016. The agreement purported to waive G.S.’s right to claim homelessness after the 2015–16 academic year. In 2016, G.S.’s parents notified Rose Tree of their intent to re-enroll G.S. for 2016–17. Rose Tree claimed that they had waived that right. The Pennsylvania Department of Education concluded that G.S. had a right to attend Rose Tree. Rose Tree continued to refuse to enroll G.S. but had continually enrolled his sister. The Third Circuit affirmed, in favor of G.S., finding that he satisfied the Act’s definition of homelessness. Continued enrollment in Rose Tree is in G.S.’s best interest. The waiver was unenforceable for lack of consideration; the tuition payment was in exchange for release of claims through August 2016. View "G.S. v. Rose Tree Media School District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law

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At age six, J.C. was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which affects the digestive tract and can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition. J.C.’s school performance was generally strong through sixth grade; he did not have significant behavioral difficulties. From seventh grade onward, J.C. maintained grades just above a failing mark and had numerous disciplinary incidents. By tenth grade, J.C. was absent more than 30% of the time. In 2013, Cumberland accommodated his needs to sometimes sit out physical education classes and to leave class to use the bathroom. In 2014, following a serious disciplinary incident, Cumberland adopted a Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 701, Section 504 Service Plan for J.C., providing for extra time to complete assignments and for class notes in case of frequent absences. After J.C.’s doctor stated that he should receive homebound instruction, Cumberland tried to implement that accommodation but J.C. was rarely present at home and was not cooperative. The district expelled J.C.; its psychologist’s evaluation concluded that J.C. did not have a “qualifying disability” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400. J.C.’s independent educational evaluation reached the opposite conclusion, identifying specific learning disabilities. J.C. moved to another school district. The district court reversed the Hearing Officer. The Third Circuit affirmed. J.C. was eligible under the IDEA, Cumberland had violated its duty to identify students with disabilities, and Cumberland violated Section 504 by failing to evaluate J.C.earlier. In seeing Crohn’s as something requiring only a Section 504 accommodation, not IDEA special education, Cumberland treated the disease as something discrete and isolated rather than the defining condition of J.C.’s life. View "Culley v. Cumberland Valley School District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law

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K.D. attended public school in the Downingtown Area School District from preschool through the first semester of third grade. Halfway through kindergarten, Downingtown assigned an Instructional Support Team to monitor K.D.’s educational progress and give her extra support. A psychologist found that K.D. had a low-average IQ (87) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). K.D. had an individualized education program (IEP) for each school year. In third grade, K.D.’s parents became dissatisfied and obtained their own neuropsychological evaluation. In the middle of third grade, Downingtown’s team met again, changed K.D.’s goals, and added new “evidence-based” programs. Her parents withdrew K.D., placed her in private school, and sought reimbursement. Pennsylvania’s Office of Dispute Resolution found that the IEPs were adequate and that Downingtown had provided K.D. with a free appropriate public education, as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Because the officer applied the Third Circuit’s meaningful-benefit test. The district court entered and the Third Circuit affirmed judgment in favor of Downington. In applying the requirement of “an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances,” courts may not “substitute [our] own notions of sound educational policy for those of the school authorities which [we] review.” View "K. D. v. Downingtown Area School District" on Justia Law

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