Articles Posted in Education 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

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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