Recent Decisions - PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION

Article excerpt

Constitutional Claims and Civil Rights

Taxpayers sued city alleging property transfer to Catholic school violated Establishment Clause. As part of its efforts to revitalize a downtown district, a city agreed to transfer a half-acre lot to a Catholic high school that was planning an expensive campus relocation on an adjacent 21 -acre property. In return, the city was granted limited use of the school's athletic facilities on the lot. City taxpayers sued, arguing the city violated the Establishment Clause in leasing the land to a religiously-affiliated private school. Held: For the taxpayers. While the city may have intended only to endorse the school's construction project, a well-informed and reasonable observer could see the below-market transfer as a direct endorsement of the school's religion, thus violating the Establishment Clause. Wirtz v. City of South Bend, Ind., 813 F. Supp. 2d 1051 (N.D. Ind. 201 1), appeal dismissed, 669 F.3d 860 (7th Cir. 2012).

Special needs student sued school district and staff alleging, among other claims, unreasonable seizure in violation of Fourth Amendment and violation of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As part of her individualized education program (IEP), an autistic kindergarten student with Down Syndrome was regularly restrained in a wrap-around desk to control her erratic behavior. The student sued claiming an unreasonable seizure, and the school district moved for summary judgment. Held: For the school district in part. Even if the wrap-around desk was a Fourth Amendment "seizure," it was not unreasonable. The staff had been given permission to use the wrap-around desk not only through the IEP but the student's mother had also approved of its use, therefore, there was no Fourth Amendment violation. There was an issue, however, as to whether the use of the wrap-around desk violated the ADA, and the school's motion for summary judgment on the ADA claim was denied. Ebonie S. ? Pueblo Sch. Dist. 60, 819 F. Supp. 2d 1179 (D.Colo. 2011).

Handicapped student sued school district and principal alleging violations of due process right to bodily integrity. A group of five male students sexually assaulted the mentally handicapped female student. After the incident, the student sued, claiming the school was liable under the state-created danger doctrine for breaking its alleged promise to provide her with one-on-one adult supervision. Held: For the school district. Although the failure to provide supervision may have partially contributed to the assault, the school did not affirmatively act to create the danger that led to the incident nor did the school make the victim more vulnerable to the assault. Therefore the state-created danger doctrine did not apply. Brown v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 456 Fed. Appx. 88 (3d Cir. 2011)(unpublished).

Elementary school student and parents brought action against school district alleging age discrimination and due process violations. The parents requested their daughter, evaluated as "intellectually gifted" in her New York school district, be placed in advanced classes but the school refused. The parents sued, claiming reverse discrimination under the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 (ADA). Held: For the school district in part and for the student in part. Once all administrative remedies have been exhausted, claims by younger people alleging discrimination in favor of older people are cognizable under the ADA. However, the right to attend a public school is state-created, not fundamental, and therefore no violation of substantive or procedural due process occurred. Long v. Fulton Co. Sch. Dist., 807 F. Supp. 2d 1274 (N.D. Ga. 201 1).

Public charter school, teacher, student, and parent appealed dismissal of action alleging Commission policy prohibiting use of religious texts violated First and Fourteenth Amendment. An Idaho charter school and a teacher employed there, along with a student and their parent, sued the Idaho Public Charter School Commission alleging that its policy prohibiting the use of religious texts in the school violated the free speech rights of the student and teacher as well as the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses. …