State Court and Lower Federal Court Decisions: Primary and Secondary Education

Article excerpt

Constitutional Claims and Civil Rights

Teacher of Lebanese descent sued school district for discrimination. A Lebanese substitute teacher alleged the local school board had discriminated against her on three occasions by refusing to offer her a permanent teaching position despite her good teaching record and evaluations. Held: For the teacher. The teacher, suing under a disparate treatment theory, must show that the school district's reasons for not hiring her were pretextual for the lawsuit to survive. The teacher could show pretext by showing the school district's explanation for not hiring her were inconsistent or unbelievable with other actions taken by the district. The teacher may also show pretext by showing that unlawful discrimination more than likely motivated the school district's hiring practices. Since several factual instances of pretext by the school district could be inferred, the district's motion to dismiss the teacher's claim was dismissed. Raad v. Fairbanks N. Star Borough Sch. Dist., 323 F.3d 1185 (9th Cir. 2003).

Parents of two male students sued teacher, school, and school board for claims arising from alleged sexual molestation by teacher. The teacher allegedly molested two fifth-grade boys during class and tutoring sessions. The parents alleged battery, infliction of emotional distress, and Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection claims. The teacher claimed immunity under the New Mexico Tort Claims Acts (NMTCA). Held: For the parents. The teacher abused his authority for the purpose of sexual gratification, thus depriving students of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The teacher overstepped his authority and therefore could not claim immunity under the NMTCA. Because sexual harassment is actionable in the workplace, it is also actionable in the classroom despite the absence of specific case law and despite immunity for public officials in such cases. ShA. ex rel J.A. v. Tucumcari Mun. Sch., 321 F.3d 1285 (10th Cir. 2003).

Parents sued public school district for failing to provide child with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The child's mother sued the school district alleging her child was denied a FAPE. An independent hearing officer ordered the school district to reimburse the mother for private school tuition, but a state hearing review officer reversed the independent hearing officer's ruling. Held: For the school district. Affirming the ruling, the district court gave deference to the hearing review officer's conclusions. Finding no error in deferring to the review officer's conclusions, the court found the boy's academic progress was relevant in reaching its decision. The mother's claim that the school district could have offered more positive behavioral reinforcement did not deny the boy a FAPE and therefore was not entitled to reimbursement for private school tuition. As no agreement was reached between the mother and the school district, the boy was not entitled to remain at the private school pending appeal. C.J.N. v. Minneapolis Pub. Sch., 323 F.3d 630 (8th Cir. 2003).

Attorney-parent sued for reimbursement of attorney's fees generated from due process hearing. The disabled child's parents requested and received a due process hearing. The mother, who was an attorney, represented her daughter at the hearing. The administrative law judge ruled in favor of the school. The parents then requested reimbursement for attorney's fees. Held: In part for the school system and in part for the parents. The court decided that an attorney-parent may recover fees under IDEA, but only when he/she is the prevailing party. Therefore, the school system does not have to reimburse this particular parent. Matthew V. ex rel Craig V. v. Dekalb Co. Sch. Sys., 244 F. Supp. 2d 1331 (N.D. Ga. 2003).

Parents sued school district for failing to provide child with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Disagreeing with the school district's recommendation to transition the child from a 24-hour residential placement program in a private school to a less restrictive public high school, the father proposed transitioning the child to a less restrictive boarding school. …