Archive for the ‘Education Law’ Category

According to a complaint, a nine-year-old known old known only as Jane Doe in the court documents was checked out of Covington County Elementary School at least six times by an unauthorized stranger during the 2007-08 school year. The stranger, Tommy Keyes, signed the child out as her father and at least once as her mother. The complaint alleges that Keyes raped, sodomized, and molested Jane during these sessions and then returned her to school. The complaint further alleges that school officials never asked Keyes for identification or checked the "permission to check-out form" that each parent or guardian submitted to the school with the names of adults authorized to pick up their children.

Jane’s father and grandmother, Daniel and Geneva Magee, filed the complaint against the Covington County School District, several educators, and Keyes. The trial court dismissed the case against the school and its officials, however, holding that they had no duty to protect the girl.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Magees that the school had a "special relationship" with Jane:

[She] was required to attend the school throughout the entire school day, out of the presence of her legal guardian and without any ability to leave; and Jane’s exclusive confinement by the school, entirely without the protection of her legal guardian, in combination with her young age, made Jane wholly dependent on the School for her safety.

After finding that a special relationship existed, the court then concluded that the school and its officials acted with deliberate indifference to Jane’s safety by checking her out to an unauthorized adult (whom they did not know) without verifying his identity to confirm that he was authorized by Jane’s legal guardian to check her out of school. The court then reversed the dismissal of the school district to allow the family to proceed in its case against the school district for possible violations of her substantive due-process rights. The court agreed, however, that qualified immunity protects the school officials from liability.

For the full story, click here.


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Hansen v. Republic R-III School District, No. 10-1514.

Larry Hansen’s son is a ninth-grade student in the Republic R-III School District (“Republic”) and has been diagnosed with conduct disorder, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”). Hansen has (1) been suspended numerous times for threatening classmates and teachers, (2) made suicidal comments on multiple occasions, (3) consistently performed poorly in his classes and standardized tests. At the end of his fifth-grade year, Hansen’s father initiated proceedings under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) for special education services for Hansen. After an eligibility evaluation, Republic determined that Hansen did not qualify. Hansen’s father challenged the decision through an administrative due process hearing, and the Due Process Panel agreed with Republic, noting that Hansen did not qualify for special education services under the IDEA as a matter of law.

Hansen’s father then sought judicial review of the panel’s decision. The district court agreed with Hansen’s father that Hansen was disabled as defined by the IDEA and, thus, eligible for special education services. Republic subsequently appealed the matter to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that Hansen did not meet the statutory definition of a “child with a disability.”

The Eighth Circuit noted that the IDEA provides thirteen categories of eligibility, including “emotional disturbance” and “other health impairment.” The Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”) defines “emotional disturbance” as a condition exhibiting at least one of the five listed characteristic “over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” The CFR’s definition precludes children who are only “socially maladjusted” and fail to exhibit at least one of the five provided characteristics. Republic contends that Hansen is socially maladjusted rather than emotional disturbed, as Hansen’s father alleges. The court agreed with Hansen’s father, stating that “consistently struggled to pass his classes, failed the standardized test . . . for advancement to the seventh grade, and suffered academically because of his diagnosed bipolar disorder.”

The court then explained that Hansen met the eligibility requirement for “other health impairment” under the IDEA. The CFR defines “other health impairment” as “having limited strength, vitality, or alertness . . . that—(i) Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as [ADHD] . . . and (ii) Adversely affects a child’s educational performance.” The court found that there was overwhelming evidence that Hansen suffered from ADHD and that his educational performance was affected by it.

Accordingly, the court held that Hansen meets the statutory definition of a “child with a disability” under the IDEA and affirmed the district court’s ruling.

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M.S. was a 15-year-old male student in 36-year-old Colleen McGraham’s English class. He was also involved in the poetry club and theater group, for which McGraham was an advisor. She loaned him books such as "Catcher in the Rye" and "Fahrenheit 451," but also let him borrow "Harold and Maude," a 1972 movie about a sexual relationship between a teenage boy and an older woman. McGraham eventually asked him if it was "crazy" to "think that there was something between us." M.S. told another teacher, who advised him to tell the principal. Later, M.S.’s mother and an investigator posed as M.S., eliciting more responses from McGraham, who wrote of her distress that M.S. had stopped talking to her:

Because we have both been confused, I have wanted us to talk. But that seems to create problems for both of us. When I have tried to talk to you, you seem to run a bit in the opposite direction. And my nervousness leads me to maybe not be entirely forthright. There is so much I would like to tell you, to discuss with you. But even now writing this, there is fear. You, I am sure, understand the risks involved for me. But you have no idea how happy it makes me to hear from you. And as far as where I am standing, there is only one place I would like to be standing. God, help me!

McGraham told an independent hearing officer that she had learned her lesson and was seeking therapy. The officer then suspended her for 90 days and transferred her to another school.

The New York City School District then filed suit against McGraham for additional punishment, and the trial court vacated the suspension and remanded the case for a more severe penalty. On appeal, however, the 1st Appellate Division of New York reversed the decision, ruling that the suspension and transfer constituted sufficient punishment, noting the following:

The penalty imposed here is not so lenient as to be arbitrary and capricious. The hearing officer’s conclusion that [McGraham] was not like to repeat her actions was necessarily a determination based on [her] credibility, and he was in far superior position than [the trial court] to make that determination.

For the full story, click here.

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In 2006, G.I. Forum and LULAC, two groups representing Mexican-American students, challenged Texas Education Agency’s bilingual program, claiming it violated the Equal Educational Opportunity Act (“EEOA”), which requires a state agency “to take appropriate action to overcome language barriers.” They asserted that Texas denied equal educational opportunities to Mexican-American students. The trial court agreed that too many students with limited English proficiency (“LEP”) were performing poorly, particularly secondary students and ordered the state to “establish a new monitoring system and establish a language program that fulfill the requirements of the EEOA.”

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found several flaws with the trial court’s findings, mainly with the evidence it used to conclude that the state was complying with federal law. The court reversed the trial court’s order, noting that the trial court should conduct an “appropriate analysis” of the federal claims in regard to a particular district or districts to determine the cause of LEP student failure. The court then remanded the case for additional proceedings.

For the full story, click here.

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