February 27, 2015

37 California School Districts Agree to Settle Lawsuit Regarding Elementary School Physical Education Requirements

In a post in August, 2014 (HERE), the California Business Litigation blog wrote about a lawsuit filed by Cal200. That suit alleged that many school districts in California were failing to meet the elementary school standard for PE of 200 minutes for every 10 school days. Among the districts named in the suit were Los Angeles Unified, Riverside Unified, San Francisco Unified and Palm Springs Unified.

school%20bus%20%26%20child%2044980077-001.jpgThe update is that 37 school districts have agreed to a settlement. The settlement requires all elementary schools in the districts to prove they are providing at least the minimum amount of physical education required by California law.

Elementary school teachers for grades 1 through 6 will be required to document how many minutes of physical education students receive. Further, that documentation must be made available to the public.

The lawsuit was filed because PE teachers, the California State Legislature and public health advocates have had little success in getting school districts to comply with the state requirements. The requirements were rarely enforced and essentially “had no teeth”.

The attorney for Cal200 stated “We think it’s a huge accomplishment and it’s going to benefit public health in California”.

Continue reading "37 California School Districts Agree to Settle Lawsuit Regarding Elementary School Physical Education Requirements " »

January 22, 2015

We are Always Looking for One or Two More Good Clients . . . Even When Business is Great

One of the questions I hear frequently is about whether we are accepting new clients.

While the short answer is “Yes”, here is some additional information which many people find interesting.

Great%20Fit%20Gears%2039896521-001.jpgOur law firm, Sylvester Oppenheim & Linde is committed to client service and quality legal representation for each and every client. That means that we only accept clients who we feel are a good match for our expertise, experience and areas of practice.

I learned a long time ago that we can’t be all things to all clients, but we can be all things to some clients: and those are the ones we accept and serve in an exemplary manner.

The purpose of this blog is to provide helpful information to anyone who reads it. On our website, you will find another example of our “Be of Service” attitude by reading our Home Page Article “Eleven Questions to ask BEFORE Hiring a Business Attorney”. You will also find a list of our practice areas on that page.

Our clients tell us that they appreciate our honesty, accessibility and guidance. And we appreciate our clients.

Back to the question. The answer is: “Yes, we are always looking for one or two new good clients.” If you have a legal issue, I invite you to call and let’s find out whether we are a great fit for each other. I can be reached at 818-461-8500 or via the Contact form on this page.

Richard Oppenheim

October 31, 2014

Nevada Parents Sue School District Over Failure to Report Bullying

Nevada parents Jennifer and Jason Lamberth thought everything was going well with their 13 year-old daughter, Hailee. She was enrolled as a seventh grader at White Middle School in Henderson. The day that her life came to a tragic end, she had been named student of the month in her math class. She was so excited about the honor that she sent a text message to her parents just after it happened.

Bully%20Stop%20Violence%2053127538-001.jpgA few hours later, Hailee took her own life. Unbeknownst to her parents, Hailee had been suffering bullying for months. Two students, one male and one female, had routinely taunted her. They left notes in her locker and threatening voicemail messages on her phone. They caused her to cry on an almost daily basis. Other students knew that the bullying was taking place. At least one of the incidents had been reported to the Clark County School District's website.

The website contained a page where students and other concerned members of the public could anonymously report instances of bullying. According to law, district officials are required to investigate such reports within 10 days. Part of the investigation is informing the bullied student's parents about the incident.

However, Jennifer and Jason Lamberth say that no such investigation was ever conducted on Hailee's behalf. Because there was no investigation, they never knew that their daughter was suffering daily torment at the hands of fellow students. That's why they are now suing the school district. They believe that if the district had followed their own policies that Hailee might not have shot herself.

Although the Lamberths are asking for monetary damages, no amount is disclosed in court documents. The parents say they cannot put a price on the life of their daughter. Instead, the lawsuit is a means of ensuring that the school district comes up with adequate policies to deal with bullying and that those policies are strictly followed.

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October 24, 2014

Arizona Teacher Fired for Allegedly Defending Student Against Bullies

An elementary school teacher with 24 years of experience has been fired in Arizona. Pamela Aister, who was teaching fourth grade at Four Peaks Elementary School, was fired by officials from the Fountain Hills Unified School District after a bullying incident on the playground.

Fired%2053061626-001.jpgAister was supervising children on the playground when she noticed that a group of students had encircled a single African-American boy. The boy was Malachi Gillis, a 9 year-old who had recently transferred into Aister's class. Gillis had a difficult history at the school. He joined Aister's class after being repeatedly bullied by other students. Although Gillis had reported the bullying to his former teacher, playground aides and other adults, little had been done to rectify the situation.

Gillis alleges that the other students routinely used racial slurs and called him other names. When he could not get help from the grown-ups at his school, he became depressed. Eventually, he was moved to a different classroom, but the bullying didn't stop.

What changed was that Aister stood up for her student when she saw him being threatened on the playground. Aister claims that she merely compelled the children to leave Gillis alone, telling them that, "He's not alone anymore. If you're picking on him, you're picking on me." One of the students accused of bullying Gillis reported the confrontation to parents who made a complaint to the district. Aister was fired for allegedly having used threatening language to students.

Aister has hired an attorney to represent her in the matter, although no lawsuit has been filed yet. Meanwhile, they are gathering support for their cause of having Aister reinstated in the classroom by holding press conferences and getting the word out about the situation. Gillis' mother, Jennifer, notes that she may sue the district over the bullying and their refusal to do anything about it.

A Change.org petition has already gathered far more than 100,000 signatures aimed at getting Aister's job back. Nonetheless, the district maintains its position that the well-being of students must always be put first and that Aister violated that trust.

October 17, 2014

High School Principal Alleges Discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace is always a hot topic. Usually, allegations of discrimination are brought by members of a specifically protected group. That's not the case with a recent lawsuit filed in New Jersey.

School%20Bus%2043843684-001.jpgHigh school principal Mae Robinson, who is white, filed the lawsuit because she says she was pressured to nominate minority candidates to fill positions within the school district. Robinson refused to comply on numerous occasions, nominating the most qualified candidates who, as it happened, were not members of a minority group. After losing her post in the school district and being accused of disrupting the organization's affirmative action program, Robinson felt compelled to sue.

Back in 2010, Robinson was the principal at Timber Creek High School. The district was in need of a new vice principal as well as a guidance counselor. In her complaint, Robinson states that she and other district officials were under pressure from then Superintendent John Golden to hire minorities for these positions.

The complaint alleges that Golden asked Robinson and others to "do me a big favor" by hiring a minority candidate. However, Robinson had already made her nomination to the board. The candidate was not a minority, but had all of the qualifications for the role of vice principal. When the board rejected the initial candidate, Robinson nominated the next most qualified individual. However, that person also was not a minority.

The issue came up again when Robinson was called in for her regular performance evaluation in 2012. Golden again reiterated the need for selecting minority candidates. Robinson challenged the idea that any vacancies should be filled by candidates where race or gender was the primary consideration.

The matter has moved on to the courts now that Robinson has filed a lawsuit.

Continue reading "High School Principal Alleges Discrimination " »

September 29, 2014

Virginia Student May Sue a Principal for a Cell Phone Search

A Virginia federal district court recently ruled that a student has the right to sue his high school principal after the school official conducted a search of the student's cell phone.

search%20cell%20phone%2061969338-001.jpgThe student, identified in the lawsuit only as W.S.G., was called into the principal's office on suspicion of marijuana use. Two parents reported use of marijuana on a school bus by a long haired male student. W.S.G. vaguely fit the description given by the parents, so Assistant Principal Robert A. Turpin III and Associate Principal Diane Saunders' called him to Saunders' office.

W.S.G. wasn't certain why he was summoned, but he complied with the principals' search of his pockets and backpack. Turpin also performed a pat down while Saunders reviewed a Vaseline jar and a sandwich wrapper.

The federal district court agrees that school officials were justified in searching these items. However, the judge believes that the principals erred when they searched W.S.G.'s cell phone. Rationale behind the finding concludes that W.S.G. could have concealed marijuana in his pockets, backpack, the Vaseline jar or the sandwich wrapper. However, drugs could not be hidden in the cell phone. In the judge's opinion, Saunders' search of the cell phone was a violation of the student's Fourth Amendment rights.

W.S.G.'s initial complaint made other allegations that the judge does not believe were justified. The defendant alleged a charge of assault and battery based on the pat down he received, an idea that the judge rejects outright. Moreover, W.S.G.'s assertions that the Henrico County School Board was liable for failing to properly train personnel on search procedures were judged to be groundless. The judge pointed out that the defendant had failed to prove a pattern of deliberate indifference on the part of the school board.

Despite the finding that the cell phone search was likely unreasonable, the judge said that Saunders might have had reason to conduct the search if she thought she would find evidence of text messages or other communications regarding a supplier. With the evidence on hand, he could not conclude that she had a proper incentive for the search.

September 5, 2014

Pennsylvania School District Settles Lawsuit with School Psychologist

A Pennsylvania school district recently settled a lawsuit involving a former school psychologist. The Burrell School District was sued by Kristin Serluco after she was furloughed in 2011. Serluco claimed that the furlough was inappropriate, and that the district owed her compensation.

Psychology%2050034652-001.jpgThe school district made a strategic decision to settle the suit. Lee Price, acting as solicitor for the district, noted disappointment in the outcome. However, they were unwilling to accrue greater legal fees, and they wanted to continue with the outsourcing project that had necessitated Serluco's furlough.

Serluco had been employed with the district as a psychologist since 2000, and had held a tenured position since 2003. Tenure gave Serluco seniority, but when the district wanted to take cost cutting measures they decided to let her go.

Prior to 2011, the district contracted with the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit to staff its special education program. Then they decided they would rather offer in-house special education. The switch was projected to save the district some $25,000 annually. An administrator who would oversee the special education program would have to be hired. At the same time, Serluco's job would be eliminated, mainly because her certifications did not include the supervision of teachers. The district went on to complete an outsourcing contract with Westmoreland for a psychologist.

Outsourcing meant that the district would not need to have a full-time psychologist on staff. In court documents, lawyers for the district noted a $144,000 annual savings because of the changes. Counsel for Serluco disagreed, estimating that the district likely only saved about $20,000 per year.

In December of 2013, Judge Gary Caruso found in favor of Serluco, awarding her some $200,000 in back wages. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant were satisfied with the outcome, and both appealed to a higher court.

In the final settlement, the district will pay Serluco $175,000 in back wages and will no longer be obligated to hire her back. Many details of the settlement are being kept confidential.

August 20, 2014

Whistleblowing Teacher Sues School District

The Fremont (Michigan) Public Schools District is the subject of a new lawsuit. Fremont High School teacher Scott Herlein filed it after being terminated. Herlein maintains that the district violated his First Amendment rights and his rights under the state's Whistleblower Protection Act.

Whistleblower%206928551-001.jpgThe story began on March 4 when Herlein was supervising a classroom of junior year students. The students were taking the ACT, which is required as a portion of the Michigan Merit Exam. For the math section of the ACT students are permitted to use calculators. While some students use their own calculators, others use calculators that are provided by the school.

During the course of the test, Herlein noticed that the students who were using the school issued calculators had access to ACT help files. The files had been preloaded onto the calculators by the school to help students prepare for the exam. Believing the files to be nothing other than cheat sheets, Herlein reported the use of the files to the district on March 6.

The Michigan Department of Education investigated the claims. By May 14, the investigation was over, and the department found that the school may have violated the spirit of the law, but engaged in no real wrongdoing. A loophole in ACT regulations states that files may not be erased from calculators used during the exam. Although this violates state policy, it is difficult for the department to find otherwise since the ACT would not have permitted deleting those files. About two weeks after the conclusion of the investigation, Herlein was terminated.

Since then, a new district superintendent has taken over. Herlein's lawsuit names the former superintendent and each board member individually. The details of Herlein's termination were not made immediately clear by the complaint. In fact, the current superintendent notes that Herlein remains employed and on the payroll of the district pending an upcoming tenure hearing.

Further filings in the lawsuit should prove revelatory regarding the conditions of Herlein's termination. He has already disclosed that he was "interrogated" by investigators on May 5, and was forced to admit that he was the whistleblower.

August 14, 2014

Pennsylvania Teacher's Free Speech Lawsuit Won't Go to Trial

As various social media formats and blogs continue to evolve, the definition of free speech may also evolve. That seems to be the case with a former Bucks County, Pennsylvania English teacher who sued her former employer.

Grades%20on%20a%20chalkboard%2033883975-001.jpgThe situation began in 2011, when teacher Natalie Munroe began blowing off steam through her personal blog. She routinely made attacks on her students, whom she did not name, in the blog. Using descriptors like "utterly loathsome," "frightfully dim" and "jerk."

Before long, links to her blog were being floated around parents and students in Central Bucks School District. Despite receiving positive teacher evaluations in 2008, Munroe found herself being put on a disciplinary work plan because of the furor her blog posts caused. Subsequent evaluations were poor, and Munroe was terminated.

Munroe and her attorney claim that the work plan and the poor evaluations were retaliation for the blog posts. Further, they claimed that the posts should have been protected as free speech under the First Amendment.

A recent decision handed down by U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe disagrees with the plaintiff's assertions. Judge Rufe used a time-tested standard for determining whether or not the blog posts were protected speech. She noted that Munroe was a public employee who may be held to a different standard when disparaging their employer. Ultimately, Judge Rufe said that the blog posts caused a significant disruption at the school and within the district. This disruption made it difficult for the district to carry on its essential function to educate students. Accordingly, Munroe's blog posts were not protected speech.

Because of the judge's ruling, this case will not be proceeding to trial. Legal scholars warn that anyone who is employed by a public entity should be exceedingly careful about their social media presence. In most instances, it's best not to blog or otherwise post comments about a public employer, coworkers or recipients of the services provided by government entities. Doing so may put the blogger's job in jeopardy, and there is a very good chance that a court will agree that the employer was within their rights.

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August 8, 2014

California Lawsuit Contends that Students Don't Get Enough PE

An enigmatic organization called Cal200 has come forward with a lawsuit that charges more than three dozen school districts with providing inadequate time for physical education. Los Angeles Unified, Riverside Unified, San Francisco Unified and Palm Springs Unified are all named among the defendants.

school%20bus%20%26%20child%2044980077-001.jpgThe complaint contends that students in the first through sixth grades in these districts are not being given the state mandated minimum time for PE. California state law dictates that students should participate in PE activities for about 20 minutes every day. The economic downturn of a few years ago meant that schools were receiving less and less funding for physical education classes. This meant that most elementary school students spent time with a designated PE teacher just once or twice a week. The students' regular teacher was supposed to supplement this time in the classroom. The reality is that it is extraordinarily hard for teachers to fit in PE while also trying to produce the high scoring students that the system requires.

Cal200 may be seeking to take advantage of this lapse. The group appears to have started only recently with the rather vague intention to raise awareness of the limited time students are given for PE. Visits to the group's website and emails with its president, Marc Babin, elicit next to no information about the group's activity, its membership or its purpose.

It's well known that teachers have little opportunity to squeeze PE into an already packed day. An attorney working with some of the school districts named in the suit noted that Marc Babin has no discernible relationship with many of the districts.

An attorney for Cal200 has asked that teachers submit lesson plans for review so that it can be determined just how much PE the students are participating in. Time will tell if the districts settle the dispute to make the problem disappear, or if the court will rule on the issue of Cal200's standing to file this lawsuit.

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July 11, 2014

ABA Ruling Says Attorneys May Review Social Media Posts by Jurors

As more and more people establish a presence on social media websites, the line between the real world and the virtual world becomes increasingly blurred. That's true in many aspects of life, and it is particularly relevant when applied to jurors. In a recent ruling handed down by the American Bar Association (ABA), lawyers may rightfully review the social media postings of jurors and potential jurors. However, strict lines for appropriate conduct and ex parte communication have also been drawn.

Social%20Media%20Magnified%2044298834-001.jpgThe ruling by the ABA essentially says that it is appropriate for lawyers to peruse the social media postings of jurors at websites like Facebook and Twitter. However, it remains unethical for lawyers to make friend requests to these jurors or to "follow" their social media posts. It is believed that doing so would breach rules against ex parte communication. Accordingly, lawyers may lawfully review those posts that a juror chooses to make public. Such items as may be accessible only by the people designated as "friends" by the juror may not be reviewed by the lawyer.

Lawyers may be interested in reviewing such publicly available information in order to ascertain whether or not jury instructions are being adhered to. These postings may also be of interest during the jury selection process when an attorney may be looking for bias or prejudice.

The ABA feels that judges and lawyers in the courtroom should discuss social media expectations. Thus, a judge may instruct that it is inappropriate for jurors to make any social media postings during the course of a trial. Lawyers may monitor whether or not this activity is occurring. Jurors should also be instructed that their social media presence may be of interest to the parties involved in a lawsuit, and that their postings may be reviewed by attorneys involved in the case. The ABA feels that there will be fewer misunderstandings if clear rules regarding social media behavior are established early in the proceedings.

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June 27, 2014

Minnesota Teen Sues School District and Police Over Tweet

An offhand, two word social media post has ignited controversy in Minnesota. Reid Sagehorn, who at the time of the post was a 17 year-old senior at Rogers High School in Rogers, Minnesota, responded to a Twitter post with a flippant comment. Though it took only seconds to post it, the fallout has lasted for months and has now become the subject of a lawsuit.

Social%20Media%2037877338-001.jpgIn January of 2014, Sagehorn was asked by an anonymous Twitter user whether or not he had ever made out with a 28 year-old physical education teacher at Rogers High School. Sagehorn replied, "Actually,yes." Although he insists the comment was made in jest, school district officials took it seriously. Charging that his remark damaged the reputation of the teacher, the principal at Rogers High suspended Sagehorn for five days. Another five days were later tacked on before even more days were added, resulting in a suspension of about seven weeks.

The local police also got involved in the melee. They opened a criminal defamation investigation against Sagehorn. Although no charges were ultimately filed, Sagehorn contends that the felony investigation further harmed his reputation.

While enrolled at Rogers High School, Sagehorn was a member of the National Honor Society and a star athlete. He was in the midst of his senior year when the Twitter controversy began. Overcome with humiliation, Sagehorn withdrew from Rogers and graduated from another local high school. Nonetheless, the fallout from the suspension and the investigation by police continues to haunt him.

That's why Sagehorn recently filed a lawsuit that names various school district and police officials as defendants. The lawsuit seeks damages for the harm done to Sagehorn's reputation. His lawyers claim in the complaint that Sagehorn's posting in no way posed a threat to the teacher. Moreover, he made the post on his own time without using any school resources. Accordingly, his lawyers believe his First Amendment rights were violated by the actions of the school and the police. The outcome of this case may well set a precedent for how schools respond to student use of social media.

June 20, 2014

Parents Sue School Psychologist Over Birth Control Prescription

Parents whose teenage daughter was prescribed birth control pills without their knowledge or consent are suing a high school psychologist and his wife. Anthony and Eva Jackson, plaintiffs in the suit, name James Tosto and Dawn Tosto as the two individuals who allegedly conspired to allow their daughter to obtain birth control pills without seeking their consent.

Birth%20Control%20Pills%20%2048509844-001.jpgJames Tosto works as a psychologist for the Peekskill School District in New York. His wife, Dawn, works at the Hudson River Community Health Center, an off campus clinic to which the underage student was transported in June of 2011. Once there, she underwent a physical examination before being prescribed birth control pills. She took the pills home and took several days' worth of them before her parents discovered them.

The Jacksons are concerned that their daughter was removed from the school campus, received a physical examination and a prescription without their knowledge or consent. Under New York State law, health services to minors cannot be administered without parental consent. As the Jackson's attorney contends, that is precisely what happened in this case. Moreover, the Jacksons fear that other underage students may have received similar health services without the knowledge of their parents. In the complaint, plaintiffs allege that their filing is: "on behalf of all other parents whose children were subject to physical examinations" and "given access to and/or distributed birth control without the parents knowledge, consent or opportunity to opt out...".

In an unusual twist, the plaintiff Anthony Jackson is also an employee of the Peekskill School District, though he does not work at the same school where James Tosto is a psychologist. It appears that Jackson is currently on leave from his position as a teacher and coach at Woodside Elementary School. His daughter has since graduated from high school, but her parents are clearly still troubled by the events of 2011.

The Jacksons are hoping to win their attorney's fees in addition to compensatory and punitive damages in the suit. The school district has yet to comment as they have not been served with the complaint thus far.

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June 13, 2014

Underperforming California Schools the Subject of ACLU Lawsuit

In late May, the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit in Alameda Superior Court. The case, entitled Cruz et al. v. State of California, alleges that students in seven public schools receive inadequate learning time over the course of their educational career.

Blackboard%20%21%21%21%2053226367-001.jpgAt the heart of the problem is a disparity in the quality of education received by students participating in different portions of the state's education system. Many students in California attend well-funded schools that offer a wealth of class options. The presence of teachers and administrators is predictable, and close tracking of qualifications keeps students on the road to graduation and prepared to enter college.

However, other California students are not so fortunate. They participate in a volatile school system where there are not enough teachers and administrators seem to come and go. These schools have few resources and less money. They aren't able to offer challenging curriculum and, in some cases, students are given free periods or assigned to finish administrative tasks when there aren't enough classes to take.

The result is a student body that receives very little quality education time. Essentially, though they may spend years attending school, their learning and accomplishments are far below the standards set at other, better equipped schools. Students at underperforming schools may lag behind their peers by months in terms of learning time. Moreover, the progress of students in these schools is often not tracked adequately. Many seniors get closer to graduation only to be surprised that they have not earned all the necessary credits. Others graduate, but feel they are unprepared to continue their education.

The lawsuit (available HERE) hopes to address these issues by providing greater equality in educational opportunities. A main claim in the suit argues that the state is in violation of the California constitution which requires equal protection to all learners. The ACLU contends that the state has long been aware of the problems plaguing these schools, but has yet to address the issue meaningfully. If successful, the suit would establish a system for tracking where students are lagging behind their peers and would quickly move to correct these issues.

May 30, 2014

Lawsuit Settlement to Make School Transitions Easier for Autistic Students

Children with autism face a number of challenges. It isn't easy for them to relate to others, and life changes can prove distinctly distressing for them. That's why a practice of moving autistic children from one school to another in the Philadelphia School District with little warning was so troubling.

Special%20ed%20brain%20puzzle%2048932564-001.jpgParents whose autistic children attended public school in Philadelphia called the practice the "autism shuffle." Children in kindergarten through eighth grade were subject to being moved from one school to another in order to receive the support they required. Some schools simply weren't equipped to deal with the needs of autistic children as they advanced through grade levels. Essentially, the district had divided the support services into three categories. One for kindergarten through second grade, the next for third through fifth and the last for sixth through eighth. When a child was moving beyond the service level provided at their current school, they would be abruptly sent to another one. Parents had no input, and the transitions were often alarmingly difficult for the children.

A class action lawsuit was filed in an effort to improve the practice. Recently, a settlement was reached between the parents with autistic children and the school district. District officials have agreed to halt the practice of immediately moving children from one school to the next. Under the new deal, parents will be informed by January if the district expects their child to attend a different school in the fall. A formal notice letter will be sent out in June.

Parents have the right to meet with district officials to discuss the changes and, unlike before, they have plenty of time to do so. The new agreement also makes it easier for teachers to help their vulnerable students prepare for changes on the horizon. Best of all, the students themselves have time to adjust to the idea of attending school in a different environment. They may have time to visit the school before the term begins to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings. The decision appears to be a win for the students and the district.

May 22, 2014

Federal Judge Rules: Teachers' Pay Remains Tied to Standardized Test Scores

In 2011, the state of Florida passed a law that changed the way teachers would be compensated. Student performance on standardized tests would now have a direct bearing on how teachers were evaluated and whether or not they would get pay increases. Simply put, teachers whose students fared better on standardized tests would receive better evaluations and better pay. Teachers whose students underperformed were likely to see the results in their paychecks.

Grades%20on%20a%20chalkboard%2033883975-001.jpgThe bill was not passed without controversy. In fact, Governor Charlie Crist initially vetoed the bill in 2010. The next year a new governor was in office, and the bill was passed. Lawsuits were filed almost immediately. Teachers in three counties filed suit, and they were joined by the National Education Association and the Florida Education Association. The lawsuit was initiated in the Gainesville Federal Court. Plaintiffs in the case argued that creating a connection between standardized test performance and teacher merit pay was unconstitutional.

The judge recently handed down a decision that was declared a victory by the state's department of education but was decried by the plaintiffs as disappointing. Essentially, Judge Mark Walker decided that although the evaluation system is unfair, it is not within his authority to overturn the law. He was forced to dismiss the lawsuit, writing that the case "is not about the fairness of the evaluation system." Instead, he based his decision on questioning "whether the evaluation policies are rational within the meaning of the law." In his decision, the judge found that the law was not unconstitutional.

Department of Education spokesman Joe Follick is happy with the dismissal, saying that the department is "pleased that we can put the focus where it should be -- ensuring all students receive the best education possible."

That single-minded focus may not yet be possible. Plaintiffs are still considering whether or not to appeal the decision. For now, teachers in Florida will continue to see compensation that is directly tied to standardized test scores, even if those scores come from test subject matter that is not instructed by the teachers who pay will be affected.

Continue reading "Federal Judge Rules: Teachers' Pay Remains Tied to Standardized Test Scores " »

May 9, 2014

Will New Bullying Lawsuit Bring Change to Las Vegas Schools?

In a new bullying lawsuit filed in Las Vegas, the American Civil Liberties Union is bringing charges against school officials. The ACLU says that they failed to stop a bully in a band class who acted viciously against two fellow sixth graders and even caused one of these students to think of suicide.

Bully%20Stop%20Violence%2053127538-001.jpgThe complaint, available HERE, was filed on Monday on behalf of the boys' mothers who want policy changes and unspecified damages in a jury trial. The Clark County School District (CCSD) officials being named include Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky, employees at Greenspun Junior High School and school board members as defendants. In addition, the lawsuit accuses the Nevada Equal Rights Commission of responding poorly with an investigation.

The lawsuit goes into great detail about how the two sixth graders were tormented extensively by bullies. The bullying started in Fall 2011 when the boys first entered sixth grade. For many months, the students suffered homophobic slurs and one was stabbed in the genitals with a pencil.

Now the two families are suing the Clark County School District. The parents wore purple wristbands that showed a specific message with hearts around the name Hailee and the phrase "Stop Bullying." Purple was Hailee Joy Lamberth's favorite color. Hailee Lamberth was another victim of bullying in the CCSD. She committed suicide last December leaving behind a note. She was 13 years old and an honors student who played soccer. Her death prompted the parents the two sixth grade boys to file the lawsuit in addition to the slow response from the school board and Equal Rights Commission.

The boys who are ages 13 and 14 are the same age as Hailee when she took her life.

"If we had done something sooner, maybe Hailee might still be alive," said Kyle Bryan in the lawsuit. "No child should have to consider ending their life because of bullying."

The ACLU of Nevada said that the lawsuit is an "unprecedented action" to protect students from bullying. Amanda Morgan, the ACLU staff attorney, stated that parents shouldn't have to bring a lawsuit to ensure that children are safe and that the school district and Equal Rights Commission failed the families of the two sixth grade boys.

April 17, 2014

Facebook Lawsuit Settled Between Sixth Grade Student and School District

Last month, a case was settled between a 6th grader and the Minnewaska School District in Minnesota over a Facebook post from 2012. The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota defended Riley Stratton, who was punished for a post that she made on her Facebook page.

Social%20Media%20Compass%2054107999-001.jpgHer school forced her to hand over passwords for her Facebook and email accounts. The ACLU won their case after two years, and now the school district must strengthen privacy protections and pay damages.

Riley stated that she was happy that the case was finally settled, and that her school has to change its rules so that other students don't have to go through what she went through. "It was so embarrassing and hard on me to go through, but I hope that schools all over see what happened and don't punish other students the way I was punished," she said after the settlement.

Stratton was repeatedly punished for a comment that she made on her Facebook page while at home about a faculty member at her school. Her Facebook was then searched by school officials with police present because a conversation about sex with a boy was also investigated on her Facebook. After the ordeal, Riley no longer wanted to attend school.

The school district must now change its policies and pay $70,000 to Riley and the ACLU-MN to cover court costs and support other ACLU-MN efforts in the future. The case is certainly a lesson for school districts in every part of the country as many have changed their policies regarding social media and students.

From the ACLU press release: "We are pleased with the settlement and hope this sends a clear message to other schools that is bad policy to police students' behavior on social media," said Charles Samuelson, who is the Executive Director of the ACLU-MN. "There may be times when it is appropriate for schools to intervene, but only in extreme circumstances when there are true threats or safety risks."

The school district's new policy will work to protect students' privacy while also training staff members to ensure that correct procedure is followed.

April 4, 2014

California Parent Seeks Restraining Order Against Nine Year-Old

The media has turned a lot of attention toward bullying in recent years. Campaigns online and in school seek to educate kids about bullying and how to handle it. Schools have adopted "zero tolerance" policies and instituted stiff penalties for kids who engage in bullying. However, what happens when the parent of a bullied child believes the school isn't reacting appropriately to accusations of bullying?

Bully%20Stop%20Violence%2053127538-001.jpgFor parent Stephan Feuder in Fairfield, California, the answer is to file a temporary restraining order. His son is a 9 year-old fourth grader at Rolling Hill Elementary School. For the last few months, Feuder has been suffering bullying attacks from another student. The son asserts that the bully has stalked him and used verbal intimidation, including racial slurs. Things came to a head on March 13 when the bully allegedly physically attacked Feuder.

Feuder says the bully was attacking another student when he intervened. The bully pushed Feuder, who pushed him back. The bully retaliated by punching Feuder in the face. Feuder retreated to a school bathroom where he called his father. However, when Stephan Feuder reported the incident to the school, they refused to treat it as a case of bullying, calling it an "isolated incident" instead.

Stephan's next contact was with the Solano County Family Court where he asked for and received a temporary restraining order that is meant to keep the bully two yards away from his son at all times. The restraining order is effective immediately, but cannot be permanently enforced without the last name and full address of the bully, information that the school district refuses to supply.

School officials argue that they do not tolerate bullying, but must follow procedure before meting out discipline. Kris Corey, district superintendent, states: "We just can't expel somebody … there are certain laws we have to follow."

In the meantime, Stephan Feuder is seeking name and address information on the bully so that the restraining order can be served and take full effect. He feels his actions are protecting his son and other students who may have been bullied by the same child.

March 28, 2014

Michigan Teacher Files Suit After Order for Psychological Exam

Whether or not a public school district can require a teacher to submit to psychological examination is at the heart of a lawsuit recently filed in Michigan. The math teacher from Huron High School, who remains anonymous in the filing, states in her complaint that she was placed on leave from her job back in December 2013. At the time, district officials had already scheduled a psychological exam to happen in January 2014 before the teacher would be allowed back in the classroom.

Psych%20Head%20Puzzle%2060439674-001.jpgThe instructor balked at the requirement, despite the fact that the district is within its rights to request such an evaluation based on its current agreement with the teachers' union. In her complaint, she alleges that the examination is essentially a violation of her 4th Amendment rights, and that it constitutes an illegal search.

Details regarding the circumstances that led up to the teacher being put on leave are scant. She was assigned to a new class at the beginning of the school year called Math Analysis. Another teacher was also assigned to teach a different division of the course, and both teachers used the same syllabus. However, just a few months into the school year, the school began receiving complaints from parents about the teacher who was subsequently put on leave and filed a lawsuit. Among the complaints was an allegation that the teacher had spoken out in the classroom against gay marriage.

Nonetheless, the math teacher maintains that she has not verbally or physically abused any students, parents or co-workers, and that she did not deserve to be put on leave and should not be required to submit to a psychological examination. The school district differs without mentioning many specifics. However, statements suggest that the teacher has in fact violated district policies and has somehow engaged in discriminatory acts.

While the district cancelled the psychological examination at the teacher's request, they are still requiring completion of the evaluation before she returns to the classroom. In the meantime, the lawsuit is still pending, with the plaintiff seeking damages for lost wages and physical and emotional distress.

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January 31, 2014

California Lawsuit May Change Regulations that Govern Teacher Tenure, Dismissal Practices

A trial that may prove to involve a landmark decision began this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court. At issue is regulations that govern teacher tenure and dismissal practices.

school%20bus%20%26%20child%2044980077-001.jpgThe complaint was filed in 2012 on behalf of nine California public school students who live in economically disadvantaged regions. With the backing of a nonprofit organization called StudentsMatter that advocates for equal educational opportunities, the lawsuit aims to change the way teachers keep their jobs and how they can be dismissed.

Currently, public school teachers receive tenure after 18 months. The tenure regulation, which essentially guarantees that a teacher will have permanent employment, applies to all teachers regardless of their performance. Another issue is the state's last in, first out policy. When layoffs loom, it is the teachers with the shortest service record who are the first to go, again without regard to their performance. The lawsuit also takes issue with a particularly inefficient and expensive dismissal process that makes it unduly burdensome for schools to get rid of teachers who are not effective or who have had serious complaints made against them.

The lawsuit claims that these regulations are particularly detrimental to the quality of the education received by disadvantaged California students. It alleges that teachers with poor performance records are frequently sent to low income areas that are seen as less desirable in terms of employment. The result is an inferior education for students in these areas.

Two teachers unions, the California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association have both declared vehement disapproval of the litigation, stating that it demonizes teachers and is not aimed at actually correcting any of the problems that are faced by California schools. Should the lawsuit succeed, the unions say that the state may have problems attracting and retaining well qualified teachers.

Defendants have tried on three occasions to have the lawsuit dismissed. These efforts have failed, and with the case now in the hands of a judge, it will be some time before it is known whether or not this lawsuit will have implications for teachers in California and elsewhere.

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January 24, 2014

Memphis Teacher Locks Five Year Old Student in Closet

A Memphis, Tennessee kindergarten teacher is in hot water after locking a student in the classroom closet, and then forgetting about her.

Grades%20on%20a%20chalkboard%2033883975-001.jpgThe five year old, who says she was put in the closet because she "was playing too much" was left in the closet for more than an hour after the teacher, Kristin Ohsfeldt, went home sick. The substitute teacher who filled in for Ohsfeldt discovered the scared, shivering Akeelah Joseph, and then informed the elementary school principal of the incident.

The principal contacted police and the student's mother. Although police have looked in to the incident, they have yet to file any charges. Wanda Joseph, Akeelah's mother, arrived at the school shortly after being informed of what had occurred. Apparently, Akeelah has asthma, and the possibility that she could have suffered an attack while alone in the closet added to the mother's outrage.

The district has suspended the teacher while the incident is being investigated. According to other students in the class, Ohsfeldt was generally considered to be a "nice" teacher, but this was not the first time a student had been placed in the locked closet. A grandmother whose grandchild is in the same kindergarten class as Joseph says that the closet is meant to be a time out place. Ohsfeldt typically provided children with a reading book or beads to count while they are in the closet. However, parents do not seem to have been made generally aware of the practice.

For now, the principal will be conducting an interview with Ohsfeldt to gain her perspective on the incident. The results of this interview will be forwarded to the Board of Education, which will likely have final say as to whether or not Ohsfeldt will be terminated. The police investigation is still pending, and the state's Department of Child Services is also looking into the matter. While no lawsuit has yet been filed by Joseph's mother, it seems almost inevitable that at least the teacher and the school district will eventually become embroiled in related court proceedings.

January 16, 2014

Colorado Charter School Principal Fired After Hand Stamping Protest

The principal of a Colorado charter school has been terminated after her protest against a cafeteria hand stamping policy. Noelle Roni spent eight years as the principal of Peak to Peak Elementary School before being fired on November 1, 2013.

School%20lunch%2033495353-001.jpgIn September of 2013, Roni learned that cafeteria workers were stamping the hands of children whose lunch accounts did not have sufficient funds to purchase a meal. The children were offered a cheese sandwich, but most were humiliated and embarrassed by the hand stamp. Roni was outraged, thinking that the practice made it seem as if "they had done something wrong," and immediately tried to dismantle the practice.

Roni asked the school's food services manager to discontinue the hand stamping. When this didn't work, she arranged a meeting with the food services manager and school leaders to discuss the situation. It was agreed that the hand stamping would stop, but the food services manager promptly resigned.

Despite the agreement to end the practice, Roni was soon receiving complaints from grandparents and staff members who said that students' hands were still being stamped. Meanwhile, Kelly Reeser, the school's executive director of education, was demanding that Roni take responsibility for the exit of the food services manager. Roni refused, prompting Reeser to write a disciplinary letter that referenced Roni's "unprofessional conduct."

Roni was fired shortly afterward, a move she feels is retaliatory for her stance against the hand stamping practice. Moreover, Roni's attorney asserts that her ouster was not completed in line with the school's bylaws. These require that the principal be replaced after a public vote by the school board rather than by an administrator taking sole action.

In fact, two school board members are now facing dismissal in the wake of the firing. Parents and concerned citizens have formed an advocacy group that outspokenly disagrees with Roni's termination, and the way it was handled. The resultant media frenzy and distraction from the primary work of the school shows that no employer can afford to terminate an employee without due process and observing the bylaws and agreements that govern such matters.

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January 10, 2014

School District and Former Teacher Settle Lawsuit Out of Court

A New York school district has avoided a costly lawsuit by settling with a former teacher out of court. Thomas A. Snyder, a retired teacher formerly of the Chenango Valley Central School District, filed the lawsuit in 2013. The move was a response to the Board of Education's refusal to hire a defense attorney for Snyder who had been accused of harassing a student.

Teacher.person%20yelling%2054474414-001.jpgThe incident involved a 15 year-old who was on an academic support plan. Under the plan, the student believed he was entitled to extra time to complete an test. Snyder disagreed, and stated that he planned to give the student a zero on the test. Alyssa Driesbaugh, a teacher's aide who was present in the classroom at the time, testified through a supporting statement that Snyder had "started yelling and pointing his finger (at the student)" when they disagreed over whether or not extra time should be allowed on the test.

A formal police complaint was filed by the student, and Snyder was charged with second degree harassment. Snyder immediately went to the school board to request legal assistance with the matter, but was refused. He subsequently sued the district with the help of attorneys from New York State United Teachers. This organization is a union that provides support and assistance to teachers throughout the state.

In a confidential settlement that was signed on October 17, 2013, the school district made an agreement to pay Snyder nearly $8,000 if he would withdraw the lawsuit. In the agreement, the school district explicitly denied any liability in the matter.

Snyder retired shortly after the incident, and it appears that the school district made a wise decision by seeking a efficient, confidential settlement rather than going forward with a lawsuit that would surely have brought negative media attention.

December 19, 2013

Separation of Church and State Controversy in Montana

Controversy over the separation of church and state is brewing in Montana. The trouble began when two high schools were invited to perform at a Christmas event taking place at a Kalispell Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's a two day event featuring several music acts and a display of nativities.

Choir%20Christmas%2036334519-001.jpgThe schools accepted the invitation as it gave students an opportunity to participate in a community event and gain extra performance experience. However, two organizations have taken exception to the involvement of the schools. The Freedom from Religion Foundation has sent a letter to the schools, asking that they cancel the scheduled performances. A similar request was made by the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana. Both organizations feel that the participation of public school choirs at the event constitutes an endorsement of a religion.

At attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation calls the celebration "a worship service" and likens the performance to singing in the church choir. The superintendent for Kalispell Public Schools argues that no sponsorship of religious beliefs will be implied by the performances. Instead, the district views this as an opportunity for the students to perform in a public venue.

Another point of contention for the protestors is whether or not the students are essentially being coerced into the performance. While district officials state that students always have the choice to opt out of certain activities based on religious beliefs, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the ACLU insist that in this instance, this is not a choice students should have to face. They cite the enormous pressure teens commonly feel to fit in, saying that most students will go along with the performance even if it violates their beliefs so that they won't be seen as troublemakers.

Despite the letters of protest, the school district seems determined to continue with the plan for the choirs to participate in the event. They seem to be taking the protests in stride, arguing that the festival is a public event that many people attend for artistic reasons rather than out of any religious convictions.

December 6, 2013

California Teacher Accused of Inappropriate Contact Is Back in the Classroom

A math teacher in California is back in the classroom after a plea deal in which he pled guilty to one count of misdemeanor battery. Thomas Britain is a math teacher in the Corona-Norco Unified School District, and was accused of inappropriately touching a student in 2012.

Blackboard%20%21%21%21%2053226367-001.jpg Readers of this blog know that we rarely write about teacher/student sexual or inappropriate contact events and/or lawsuits. The traditional press covers them and they happen too frequently, all across the US. This isn’t about the event between a 12 year old and her teacher. It is about the legal and bureaucratic system that allowed the teacher back in the classroom.

The student, a 12 year-old who was a student in Britain's class, alleged that he had slapped her backside one day as she bent to retrieve her cell phone from the floor. No other students were present at the time, although the student alleged that her friend witnessed the incident from the hallway.

In the wake of the September 2012 allegations, the school district placed Britain on administrative leave. His employment status remained on leave until recently as a result of a bargain Britain struck with prosecutors. The plea deal stipulated that Britain must plead guilty to the misdemeanor battery count in exchange for having two counts of annoying a child, also a misdemeanor, dismissed.

The counts of annoying a child were likely the more serious allegations, and Britain's attorney states that a lack of evidence led to the dismissal of these charges. Nonetheless, the various allegations and the plea deal will probably be a continuing headache for Britain and the school district.

The father of the 12 year-old accuser is outraged that Britain is again being allowed to teach in the classroom even though it’s in a different school. However, the district insists that Britain has been cleared of charges and his teaching credentials have been reinstated, making him fully qualified for employment.

Sadly, everyone lost in this one. There will likely be a lawsuit filed. Check back for updates.

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November 15, 2013

Boy With Purse Suspended From School

Eighth grade student Skylar Davis was recently suspended for wearing a purse to his classes at Anderson County Senior-Junior School. Davis had been wearing the Vera Bradley bag everyday since the beginning of the school year in August. Yet, in November, the Kansas student was asked to remove the purse.

Rules%20Compliance%2053450701-001.jpgDavis refused, and was sent to the office. There, Assistant Principal Don Hillard repeated the request to remove the bag. Davis continued to refuse, citing that other students are permitted to carry purses and bags to class. He felt that the request that he remove the purse was discriminatory.

Hillard suspended Davis. In disbelief, Davis' mother, Leslie Willis, called the school to verify the reason for her son's suspension. When she learned that the suspension sprang solely from Davis' refusal to remove the bag, Willis decided to review the student handbook. She could find no references to purses or bags in the document. Accordingly, Willis also felt that the request for Davis to leave the purse in his locker was discriminatory in nature.

While Willis could find no entry in the student handbook that prohibits carrying bags and purses into classrooms, the Facebook page for School District 365, of which Anderson County Senior-Junior School is a part, states that school policy prevents students from carrying bags or purses into the room for certain core classes. Bags are supposed to be stowed in the student's locker when they are in class. If the student brings a bag to class, they may be asked to take it to their locker. The district says that this rule has been in place for several years.

It appears that Davis disagrees, noting that many female students carry purses into classrooms. The situation suggests that perhaps the rule against bags in the classroom has not been uniformly enforced in the past. Perhaps the suspension and subsequent media attention will cause the school to revisit its bag policy, applying it equally to all students or abolishing the prohibition entirely. For now, Davis is back in class, and it remains unclear how the situation will ultimately be resolved.

October 30, 2013

Ongoing Cyber Bullying Investigation in Nevada High School

An occurrence of cyber bullying at a Nevada high school is receiving widespread media attention. Early in October, a photograph began surfacing on social media. Reportedly, it was taken in one of the upstairs hallways of Durango High School, which is part of the Clark County School District.

Cyberbullying%2048885149-001.jpgWhat makes the photograph particularly notorious is its subject matter, a female student who has removed her clothing and is standing with the removed items covering her face. Rumors ran rampant in the days following the first postings of the photograph online. Some said the girl was a special education student. Others claimed that she had been coerced into removing her clothing while different witnesses said she had done so willingly.

Little is known about the girl because of Nevada privacy laws. This means that the girl's name and whether or not she is in fact a special education student remain unknown. It seems a welcome piece of anonymity in a case that's puzzling to other high school students who don't understand how the whole situation came about.

What is clear in this situation is the school district's rules against cyber bullying. Clark County School District, and Durango High in particular, have a reputation for taking a harsh view on instances of cyber bullying.

Thus far, the school and district have been relatively silent on the situation. They released a statement shortly after news of the photograph broke, saying that the "matter has our full attention." Afterward, it was reported that a student, Gary Hoffman, was expelled after the incident. Hoffman appears in the photograph, but is not seen taking pictures.

Nonetheless, Hoffman's family soon received a letter saying he had been expelled. The family appealed, noting that the student is merely in the photograph rather than being involved in inducing the girl to remove her clothing or sharing the photo on social media.

The Hoffman family prevailed in the appeal, but Gary won't be taking the district's offer to allow him to re-enroll in Durango. He'll attend a different school while Durango officials seek to punish the perpetrators in the incident.

October 18, 2013

Lawsuit May Change the Content of Science Classes in Kansas Schools

A non-profit organization and a group of Kansas parents are suing over new public school science standards. Citizens for Objective Public Education, an anti-evolution advocacy organization, and Christian parents whose children attend public schools in Kansas filed a lawsuit to prevent the adoption of the new science standards. Plaintiffs state that if the new science programs are implemented, they will promote atheism and violate First Amendment rights.

Science%20%26%20Universe%2047054434-001.jpgThe new scientific teaching standards are the result of an effort between more than 20 states, including Kansas, and the National Research Council. In the program, students would be introduced to concepts like evolution as early as kindergarten. Additionally, emphasis would be placed on projects and experiments as opposed to readings and lectures. The effort is aimed at getting kids interested in science.

However, the Citizens for Objective Public Education and their attorney, John Calvert, feel that there is another agenda operating below the surface. Calvert seems to feel that the agenda is an insidious one, having been quoted as saying that, "By the time you get into the third grade, you learn all the essential elements of Darwinian evolution … By the time you're in middle school, you're a Darwinist." In his complaint, Calvert asserts that the science program pushes a "non-theistic religious worldview" on impressionable students without allowing room for alternative theories. According to Calvert, this violates First Amendment rights of both parents and students.

Joshua Rosenau, a representative of the National Center for Science Education, calls the lawsuit "silly," going on to note that the plaintiffs are "trying to say anything that's not promoting their religion is promoting some other religion."

This is not the first time that scientific standards in Kansas public schools have come under fire. In fact, the state has adopted no fewer than six different sets of science standards in a 15 year period. The content of the standards changes as the relative liberalism or conservatism of local politicians changes. Although the current situation remains unresolved, it seems clear that this is just another step in the process toward finding scientific curriculum that adequately addresses student needs.

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September 19, 2013

Michigan School District Attempts to Have Whistleblower Lawsuit Dismissed

A Michigan school district that is being sued by a former elementary school principal is seeking to have the case dismissed in order to avoid having the matter go to trial. Tracy Sahouri, who was once employed as the principal at Creekside Elementary School, filed the lawsuit against her former employer in April of 2012. The legal action is centered around the manner in which Michigan Educational Assessment Program tests were administered at the school in 2011.

Whistleblower%206928551-001.jpgIn court filings, Sahouri alleges that she brought to light several irregularities regarding the administration of the standardized tests in the district. Specifically, she alleges that Creekside teachers had gained inappropriate access to the writing section of the test prior to the tests being given to students. Sahouri felt that her actions should have been protected under the federal government's Whistleblower Protection Act.

The act's essential purpose is to prevent the unlawful or unwarranted dismissal of employees who publicly expose wrongdoing. Accordingly, Sahouri believed that her actions should have protected her against being discharged for reasons connected to the whistleblowing. However, when it was time for Sahouri's contract as a principal to be renewed, the board of education unanimously voted that the renewal should not go through.

The district alleged that it was Sahouri who mishandled the tests, and that it was investigators from the district who ultimately uncovered the irregularities. Accordingly, the district reassigned Sahouri, who was then working as a high school vice principal, as a special education teacher and Sahouri filed suit.

In May of 2013, an independent panel recommended that the school district offer Sahouri a $525,000 settlement. The district refused to make such a settlement offer, and is now moving to have the case summarily dismissed instead.

Sahouri and her attorney remain adamant about the merits of their case and their willingness to go to trial. The lawsuit includes claims for slander, libel and invasion of privacy, all relating to the school district's making information about the matter available to the media. A formal hearing on September 23 will determine whether or not the lawsuit moves forward.

August 29, 2013

Students Challenge California School District's Social Media Policy

A new social media policy in the Lodi Unified School District is being challenged in a lawsuit brought by students within the district. The policy, which is aimed at curbing instances of cyber bullying, is essentially a one page contract that students who participate in sports and other extracurricular activities are being asked to sign as a condition of their participation. However, students cite that the agreement is too vaguely worded to provide a clear template for what is and is not acceptable.

Social%20Media%20Compass%2054107999-001.jpgDistrict officials counter that the intent of the document should be the focus, and that students should not fear for their First Amendment rights.

In the contract at issue, students are asked to agree to a policy that allows them to be benched from their sport, suspended from activities or simply removed from the team or other group in which they are participating. Attorney Thomas Burke, acting on behalf of the students, writes that the policy gives "school officials unfettered discretion if students' speech – even speech taking place off campus and having no connection to school business – is 'inappropriate'". The students and their lawyer expressed concern that students might be unduly punished simply for "liking" a post related to gun rights protected by the Second Amendment or quoting lyrics from a rap song. Students are also worried that postings regarding controversial literature or using a vernacular unfamiliar to adults will result in unwarranted consequences.

School district officials feel that the students' concerns are unfounded. Though they agree that the wording of the agreement could be improved, they believe that students are overlooking the broader intent of the document. Moreover, they argue that the policy will not be used to unreasonably punish students for their behavior on social media. Ralph Womack, School Board President, asserts that participation in an extracurricular activity is a privilege rather than a right and that requiring good behavior on social media is not unlike GPA requirements for student athletes.

For now, the outcome remains uncertain. However, it seems likely that these types of disagreements are likely to become more common as cyber bullying incidents increase.

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August 21, 2013

Private Illinois High School Sued Over a Science Experiment Gone Awry

A 2010 science experiment that went awry and caused a student injury is the basis for an Illinois lawsuit. Former student Zachary Bennett, who has graduated in the aftermath of the incident, filed the lawsuit alleging "willful and wanton conduct" on the part of private Marmion Academy.

Science%20Experiment%2045743175-001.jpgMarmion, a college prep school in Aurora, was the scene of the accident. The setting was a chemistry class where Bennett was participating in an experiment. His hand was coated with a solution of polyacrylate to act as a flame barrier between his skin and a layer of methane gas filled soap bubbles.

The initial experiment was a success, but the class and Bennett decided to take it a step farther. Bennett wore only a bathing suit, ski goggles and a swim cap. A towel was placed on the floor, with Bennett lying on his back. This stage of the experiment was also successful, prompting a further experiment with Bennett standing up.

Bennett panicked when the flames came near his face. He stepped off of the towel, slipped on some soap that that had been spilled and fell on his face. His teeth were injured in the fall, but Bennett was not burned.

Bennett and his family filed a lawsuit over the injuries, claiming that the damage to his face and teeth were the result of the teacher failing to ensure the safety of the classroom. However, Marmion Academy attorneys say that there was no "willful and wanton conduct" connected to the incident and that the lawsuit mainly relies on an allegation of simple negligence, which is protected by Illinois school codes. The defendants go on to state that the plaintiff must prove "a conscious decision to disregard the safety of others," something they argue has not yet been done.

Regardless, it seems clear that this case is still far from resolution, highlighting a need for caution in the classroom when it comes to potentially risky chemistry experiments.

August 15, 2013

Workers in Retaliation Lawsuits May Have to Meet Higher Standards of Proof

Workers who allege retaliation against their employers may now have a tougher battle ahead of them thanks to a ruling handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The highly contested case known as University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar has been making headlines for about three years now, and the ruling by the nation's highest court is likely to resonate in lower courts across the country.

Retaliation%2032004699-001.jpgDr. Naiel Nassar was employed by the university in 2001 to work at its Parkland HIV-AIDS clinic. His employment went smoothly until 2004 when Dr. Beth Levine became chief of infectious disease medicine. In Nassar's original complaint, he alleged that Dr. Levine constantly harassed him because of his Middle Eastern descent. The workplace became so unbearable for him that Nassar resigned in 2006, sending a resignation letter that detailed the harassment to Levine's supervisor and other high level college administrators. At the time, Nassar was anticipating transferring to work at the medical center. The offer of employment was abruptly rescinded after the letter was sent. Nassar sued, believing the loss of the employment offer was solely based upon retaliation for the letter.

Initially, Nassar won his case. The university was ordered to pay nearly $4 million in damages, but they appealed the ruling instead. The case was taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the university prevailed by a narrow margin. In a five to four decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that Nassar is required to furnish "proof that the unlawful retaliation would not have occurred in the absence of the alleged wrongful action … of the employer." This application of "but for" causation demands a strict interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

At this point, the case has been kicked back to the Fifth Circuit Court where this higher standard will be applied. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of this litigation, it seems clear that the Supreme Court ruling alone will set a precedent that will require future plaintiffs alleging retaliation against their employers to meet a higher, more exacting standard of proof.

August 9, 2013

Lawsuit Brought by Student with Asperger's Dismissed After Jury Decision

Two Idaho school districts were able to fend off a lawsuit brought by the parents of a student with Asperger's in a recent court decision. Jury members required six and a half hours to decide that the Boise and Meridian school districts had provided adequate accommodations for student Matthew Abramowski's education.

Special%20ed%20brain%20puzzle%2048932564-001.jpgAbramowski moved to the Boise area with his parents in 2004. When he had previously been enrolled in a California school, Abramowski had been receiving special education services. Initially, he continued in this program in Idaho. However, the school district decided that the student should be placed in the mainstream educational program when he was in the eighth grade. Idaho school officials didn't feel that Abramowski's disabilities were severe enough to require him to continue with special education classes. Abramowski's mother requested that he be independently evaluated, with the result being that Matthew was granted extra time to complete assignments and provided with other accommodations.

However, the Abramowski complaint alleges that the school districts did not do everything possible to accommodate Matthew's special needs. The complaint stated that the district did not adequately prepare Matthew for life beyond school, and that a great deal of time and money will be required to retrain him for organizational and planning skills. Moreover, the lawsuit also cited instances of bullying by various classmates that teachers did little to address.

Ultimately, the jury found the complaint unpersuasive. U.S. District Judge Candy Dale dismissed the lawsuit in the wake of the jury's decision. Nick Crawford, who was part of the school districts' defense team, noted that the jury must have recognized that school staff and administration "did, in fact, care" and that reasonable accommodations had been made.

Charlene Quade, who was acting for the plaintiffs, disagrees. She believes that the federal law known as Section 504, which was relied upon in the complaint, is a complex one, implying that perhaps the jury did not fully grasp the issues at hand. The Abramowski family remains hopeful that the case will assist other schools to more effectively deal with students who have Asperger's in the future.

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August 2, 2013

Is it Cyberbullying or Free Speech? Judge Rules that NV Student May Proceed with First Amendment Suit

School district policies meant to cut down on bullying and cyberbullying are being put to the test in Nevada. A lawsuit filed in March relates to a student's First Amendment Rights and emphasizes whether or not the district has the right to press charges against a student for statements made off campus via social media.

Cyberbullying%2048885149-001.jpgHigh school senior Juliano Rosario created a series of eight tweets while out dining with family at a local restaurant. Rosario was a basketball player, and since the season was at an end, he seemed to feel that it was time to let off some steam. The eight tweets were laced with obscenities and called out members of Rosario's high school's athletic department.

You will find the tweets listed on page 5 of the court documents HERE.

The school responded by charging Rosario with cyberbullying of a public official. In the charges, school officials relied upon the anti-bullying policy that protects against "verbal abuse, intimidation or cyber-bullying" regardless of where it occurs when the behavior "has a direct impact on the health, welfare, and safety of students or school employees."

The charges led to Rosario's suspension and eventual forced transfer to a different high school. Rosario subsequently graduated, but not before filing a lawsuit claiming that the school violated his First Amendment rights.

Rosario's attorney wonders "How far can the state go?" and also expresses shock at the notion that a teenage student "could be bullying a grown man." The complaint makes use of a state law that makes it illegal to engage in bullying behavior on school campuses or at any school sponsored events. However, the complaint goes on to point out that this state law makes no mention of off campus speech.

Defendants in the case filed a motion to dismiss that U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan subsequently rejected. In his decision, Judge Mahan ruled that Rosario could continue with his lawsuit. The judge's order ruled that the case would have to be tried on the merits. Nonetheless, he made note of circuit court decisions that ruled that schools could mete out discipline for off campus speech that was likely to "cause a substantial disruption" on campus.

July 26, 2013

Public School Yoga Classes Spark Lawsuit

An effort to bring stress relief to students attending one of the nine schools of the Encinitas Union School District in California has resulted in a lawsuit. A gift to the school district from a non-profit organization called the Jois Foundation enabled the district to offer yoga classes in all of its schools.

Yoga%2042587398-001.jpgThe Jois Foundation's focus is promoting an interest in Asthanga yoga, and they felt that this program would serve as a pilot for similar efforts. Although the yoga practice in the schools had been virtually stripped of all religious overtones, some parents took exception to the addition.

Participation in the yoga program was voluntary with students learning the crisscross applesauce pose instead of the lotus position. Teachers believed that by not using the Sanskrit language in the classes and by not emphasizing the cultural and religious underpinnings of yoga, they were abiding by the standard division of church and state. After just a few months, teachers noticed that students were calmer in the classroom, and that they were utilizing beneficial breathing techniques to prepare for stressful situations like major tests.

Nonetheless, parents Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock objected to the yoga program. In their complaint, they alleged that the practice of yoga is inherently religious and that their children, who had opted out of the program, had been bullied as a result of their non-participation. The Sedlocks sought to have the program suspended rather than seeking a monetary award in the case.

School Superintendent Timothy B. Baird stressed that the school was "not teaching religion" and that the yoga classes were part of a "mainstream physical fitness program." Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer agreed with this assessment, saying that the way the district was teaching yoga did not promote any religion. Judge Meyer went even farther in his decision, stating that this was an instance of "trial by Wikipedia" wherein the plaintiffs were relying on information from dubious sources.

The Sedlocks are likely to appeal the decision, but for the time being, interested students still have an opportunity to study yoga in the Encinitas Union School District.

July 11, 2013

Teen Sues School District Over Unauthorized Use of Photograph

Teen safety on the Internet is an issue that most parents and teachers must contend with on a daily basis. Drawing the line between what is appropriate online behavior and what is not is admittedly tricky. However, as officials in one Georgia school district are discovering, using a student’s Facebook photo to make a point can have serious repercussions.

OOPS%20%2050794898-001.jpgChelsea Chaney was a high school senior in northern Georgia when the district decided to conduct a seminar about Internet safety for students. During the presentation, students, parents and teachers were shown a cartoon that showed a child aghast at his mother’s past Facebook posts which included references to things like Jello shots and bad boys. The next image featured Chelsea Chaney, wearing a bikini and posing with a cardboard cutout of Snoop Dogg.

Chaney and her parents were horrified by the use of the private photograph which they did not know was being used for the seminar. When the school district refused to conduct an assembly to address the issue, Chaney filed a lawsuit. In the complaint, she alleges that Curtis Cearley, a county technology services director, obtained access to her Facebook profile and utilized the photograph without permission. Moreover, Chaney continues to receive harassment as a result of the use of the photograph. Media coverage has made it impossible to suppress the image, and Chaney asserts that even more than a year later she continues to receive texts and other communications telling her that she deserves this treatment.

Chaney’s attorney charges in the complaint that the seminar painted the student as a “promiscuous abuser of alcohol,” which severely damaged her reputation and caused her undue embarrassment.

Meanwhile, defendants in the case assert that they believed the photograph to essentially be in the public domain and that they did not intend to defame Chaney. This case serves to point out that images, particularly those on the Internet, can be especially powerful. Posting photographs should be done with care, but copying them for other usage requires even greater care in order to avoid serious legal consequences.

July 3, 2013

The Right of Free Speech Protects All Viewpoints in School

The right to free speech is guaranteed to each American by the Constitution. When that right is violated, the consequences can be heavy. As a high school teacher in Michigan recently discovered, the right to free speech protects viewpoints that differ as long as they are expressed in a non-threatening and non-disruptive manner.

Freedom%20of%20Speech%2045907452-001.jpgIn 2010, students at Howell High School were observing Anti-Bullying Day. Students involved in the Gay Straight Alliance Club had circulated fliers asking students to wear purple on October 20 to raise consciousness about bullying related to sexual orientation. A teacher, Johnson McDowell, chose to participate.

McDowell, an economics teacher, spent a few minutes at the beginning of each class period leading a discussion about bullying and sexual orientation. All went without incident until sixth period, when a student by the name of Daniel Glowacki protested that the teacher's t-shirt discriminated against the student's Catholic religion. Glowacki stated that he did not accept gays because of his faith. McDowell protested, and a back and forth ensued, with the result being that Glowacki was sent to the principal's office with a referral.

The student transferred to a different class, but that wasn't the end of the incident. He filed suit against the school district and McDowell. Recently, the court found in favor of Glowacki, sentencing McDowell to pay the plaintiff one dollar. McDowell's counsel had argued that Glowacki's in class statements were disruptive and intruded on the rights of others. The judge rejected these claims. Moreover, the judge found no evidence that Glowacki's comments threatened or targeted a particular person, so it could not have violated the rights of other students.

The court decreed that McDowell had engaged in "viewpoint based discrimination" and that the student's removal from class was brought about by the teacher's disagreement with the student's position on homosexuality.

The right of free speech is a precious one, and as McDowell has now learned, it protects all viewpoints. The free expression of dissenting opinions is in no way a violation of free speech. In fact, it is the most basic right guaranteed by the Constitution.

May 9, 2013

High School Teacher Files an Appeal in Case of Social Media Related Resignation

A legal quagmire in Georgia over a teacher, her Facebook profile and student access to that profile is deepening. The tale starts at the beginning of the 2009 school year when Ashley Payne, a high school English teacher, befriended a student on Facebook. It’s unclear which party sent the friend request, but the resultant connection opened Payne’s profile to the student. In it, Payne made use of the term “bitch” in a playful manner and also posted a picture of herself with a glass of wine in one hand and a beer in the other.

Resignation%20Cloud%2048748828-001.jpgUpon discovering this content, the student’s parent anonymously forwarded an email to Superintendent Dr. Ron Saunders who forwarded the message to Apalachee High principal David McGee. McGee, along with the vice principal, held a meeting with Payne in which the teacher admitted her use of Facebook and the use of a photograph depicting alcohol usage. However, Payne alleged that she was unsure whether or not any of her students were among her Facebook friends. Principal McGee then showed Payne the email complaint and notified her that the concerns of the parent were being passed along to the school board. Allegedly, McGee expressed doubts about the board finding in Payne’s favor.

Payne says she felt that she was being given two options: resign or be suspended. She sent in a resignation letter, then reconsidered the decision. With the help of an attorney, Payne addressed a letter to the school board in which she advocated for getting her job back. When that failed to elicit a response, her attorney filed a writ of mandamus alleging that the Georgia Fair Dismissal Act entitled Payne to a hearing and appropriate compensation.

In response, the school district filed a motion for summary judgment. The court ruled in favor of the school district, stating that Payne’s resignation meant she was disqualified for protection under the act. Still, Payne isn’t ready to give up the fight. A recently filed appeal means that her case will get a second look under the jurisdiction of a higher court.

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April 26, 2013

Retaliation at the Heart of Tennessee Lawsuit

The welfare of a second grade student is at the heart of a retaliation lawsuit that was recently revived by a federal appeals court in Tennessee. In the initial complaint, the parents of a Shelby County, Tennessee school district student allege that their daughter’s school principal retaliated against them in response to their accommodation requests made in connection with the girl’s medical condition.

Retaliation%2032004699-001.jpgThe student, who is identified in the lawsuit only as A.C., suffers from Type I diabetes. In her three years at the Bon Lin Elementary School, A.C.’s parents made numerous requests for accommodation of their daughter’s condition. They asked that the student’s blood sugar be tested in the classroom by the school nurse rather than having their daughter go to the nurse’s office where she would regularly encounter sick children. This request was not granted, but others were. Among them were adding a full time nurse to the school staff and training teachers how to respond to a diabetic emergency.

Despite most of their accommodations being granted by the school, A.C.’s parents continued to agitate for further changes. The principal and other staff members became increasingly bewildered regarding how to respond to the numerous requests. When A.C.’s teacher observed her eating candy and cookies at school, alarm bells sounded for administrators. They came to the conclusion that A.C.’s parents were not appropriately attending to their daughter's medical needs. This belief led to the principal contacting the Tennessee child services agency. The agency investigated the maltreatment claims, but ultimately declared them unfounded.

Nonetheless, the action prompted A.C.’s parents to initiate a lawsuit against the school district which asserted retaliation on the part of the principal in response to their accommodation requests. A summary judgment found in favor of the school district, but a three judge panel at the federal appeals court (view the opinion HERE) recently overturned that decision. The panel found that a jury could reasonably construe the report to the child services agency as a retaliatory act. Accordingly, this newly reopened case is likely to be tried in a court of law before a jury.

April 12, 2013

Allegations of Reverse Discrimination Threaten to Undermine Columbus City Schools Gifted Program

Lawsuits alleging racial discrimination in the workplace are not particularly unusual, but one such suit in Columbus, Ohio is drawing attention because of its emphasis on reverse discrimination. In the lawsuit (available HERE), two Caucasian Columbus City Schools employees are suing the school board in addition to several individual employees who are nearly all African American. Among the details in the complaint are allegations of a hostile work environment, emotional distress and the loss of opportunities for promotion.

Discrimination%2040134433-001.jpgThe two plaintiffs are Elizabeth Gasior and Juli Knecht. Each has been employed by the school district for several years, mainly within the Gifted and Talented Department. Gasior alleges that after more than 20 years of employment and overall positive employee reviews, things began to change under the directorship of Toia Robinson. After Robinson was made supervisor of the Gifted and Talented Department in the 2008-2009 school year, Gasior says that alterations within the department began to make it difficult for her to perform her responsibilities effectively. Further, she says Robinson showed a tendency to make false performance statements and began to remove her from certain department activities.

As for Knecht, the long time district employee alleges that after interviewing for a regional coordinator position and ranking well before the hiring panel, her name was simply removed from contention in favor of an African American woman who did not possess her professional qualifications. Later, Robinson, in collusion with other officials, is alleged to have falsified interview board documentation to make it look as though the African American candidate had been the preferred interviewee all along.

Both women believe that their careers as educators have been adversely affected through a pervasive pattern of reverse discrimination to which other district employees have also alluded in conversations. Repeated complaints made by both women to the board of education went unresolved for months before the decision was made to file a civil complaint. A resolution to the situation will likely not be reached for some time, which is likely to prompt the concern of many parents whose children are enrolled as students in the Gifted and Talented Department.

April 4, 2013

Clark County Nevada School District Sued Over Teacher Emails

The question of whether or not a teacher’s work email address should be a matter of public record is stirring debate in Nevada. Specifically, the Nevada Policy Research Institute is suing the Clark County School District after officials refused to release the email addresses of its 18,000 teachers. Also named in the suit are the Nevada Public Education Foundation and the county’s Public Education Foundation. Earlier correspondence from the foundations to the institute indicated that the foundations owned the licenses for the requested records, making it within their purview to make the decision about releasing the information.

Privacy%20Policy%2046679502-001.jpgThe trouble began when the institute wanted to notify teachers about the limited opportunity to cancel their membership in the Clark County Education Association. Members of the association pay almost $800 in dues each year, and they are only able to drop their membership between July 1 and 15. The association is a union, and the conservative policy institute felt that more union members should be aware of their options.

District officials didn’t agree. Melinda Malone, a spokesperson for the district, contends that making email addresses a part of the public record would create abuse of a system that’s meant to be used only for official business. If email addresses were publicly available, Malone fears that it would cause “countless businesses and organizations to continuously solicit district teachers through their work email.”

Over district objections, the institute was able to obtain a few thousand of the pertinent addresses and sent out the union notifications to those teachers. Response to the effort was mixed, with some teachers being appreciative and others asking not to be contacted. An institute representative noted that the reaction of some teachers was so strong that they “cussed” at institute employees.

This is a situation that isn’t likely to be resolved any time soon. Nevada already provides the institute with the name, salary and title of all government employees, and the institute feels that no distinction should be made for work email address. For now, it remains a question for the court to decide.

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March 15, 2013

Slavery Math . . . It's Just Doesn't Add Up!

When fourth grade teacher Jane Youn handed out a new set of math problems to her students in Manhattan’s Public School 59, the otherwise routine event sparked outrage among parents.

That’s because the assignment consisted of a number of math word problems, some of which contained references to slavery. Youn had asked her students to create word problems that combined math with their social studies lessons. Youn later collected the problems and presented them to students for homework.

Grades%20on%20a%20chalkboard%2033883975-001.jpgAll might have been well except for two questions. The first asserted that a ship had been loaded with 3,799 slaves and continued by stating that, “One day, the slaves took over the ship. 1,897 are dead. How many slaves are alive?” The other problematic question concerned a slave who was whipped multiple times everyday. Students were asked to determine how many times the slave was whipped in a one month period.

The assignment raised a few eyebrows when Youn’s students took it home that night. Almost immediately, parents were raising concerns about the appropriateness of the questions. When school officials were alerted to the matter, they expressed that they were appalled. At this time, disciplinary action against Youn is still being considered. Another teacher at the school, Jacqueline Vitucci, had copied the assignment but ultimately decided not to use it. Vitucci may also be facing disciplinary action by the administration.

The public school, which shows a demographic that is 60% white and only 5% black, is still reeling from the aftereffects of the assignment. Parents call the use of the slavery questions “unnerving” and “unsettling.” Another parent referred to the questions as “sending the wrong message.” A student teacher at Public School 59 refused to hand out the assignment in a later class, declaring that it contained issues with “desensitized” violence.

Though the fact remains that it was students who initially composed the questions, the ultimate use of those word problems was left up to the teacher’s discretion. Clearly, where racially charged subjects are concerned, it’s better to exercise caution in an educational atmosphere.

March 8, 2013

Chicago Poised to Implement Sex Ed in Kindergarten

Beginning in 2016, Chicago students may be receiving sex education classes as early as kindergarten. Currently, students begin sex education in the fifth grade, a common practice throughout the U.S. However, experts point out that America has one of the highest teen birth rates in the world. Additionally, Cook County has an unusually high rate of sexually transmitted diseases, and several studies have indicated that children as young as 13 and 14 years of age are having sex, especially in large urban areas.

Sex%20Ed%2040248067-001.jpgThe new sex ed program emphasizes age appropriate subject matter. Prior to the fifth grade, students would be introduced to subjects like basic anatomy, inappropriate touching and about various species that reproduce. As students progress through successive school years, the sex ed focus will continue to be on feelings and the family, with puberty being added in the fourth grade.

Contraception and human reproduction would not be addressed until the fifth grade. New components of the sex ed program would include information about sexual identity, homosexuality and bullying.

These changes are aimed at giving children the information they need to make healthy, responsible life choices. However, many parents are made uncomfortable at the thought of their young children receiving sex education at as early as five or six years of age. Some say that children are not yet ready to be presented with such information.

Parents who would rather not have their children participate in the program can choose to opt out. To these parents, it simply makes sense to discuss sexuality and human reproduction in the home. Nonetheless, the information presented in the classroom can be especially helpful, and public school officials suggest that any education provided at home can be augmented by instruction at school.

The changes to Chicago’s sex education program are in line with President Obama’s HIV/AIDS agenda, and were designed by the Chicago Public School's Office of Student Health and Wellness. A final decision has not yet been reached on the issue, but a presentation to the Chicago Board of Education may result in imminent implementation of the strategy.

March 1, 2013

Tenured Teacher Firing Upheld

Anyone who has ever held a job appreciates the importance of venting frustrations, and discussing such issues with friends and colleagues in private is healthy and natural.

However, the increasing prevalence of social media is making what once would have been momentary statements a permanent part of the ethos. At least, that’s what New Jersey first grade teacher Jennifer O’Brien recently learned when she posted some comments to her Facebook page.

Social%20Media%2037877338-001.jpgO’Brien’s comments about being a warden and wondering why she couldn’t bring her first grade students to a school’s scared straight program ignited a firestorm of controversy in the school district where she had been employed for more than a decade. Initially, O’Brien was suspended without pay, but eventual findings by an Administrative Law Judge, the commissioner and an appeals court had O’Brien removed from her tenured position.

O’Brien’s arguments that her posts were protected under the First Amendment fell on deaf ears. The decision to remove O’Brien from her job was supported by citations from the Pickering v. Board of Education case. The court weighed the question of O’Brien’s right to express her viewpoint in social media against the public school district’s interest in providing efficient services. O’Brien’s comments were deemed to not be a matter of “public concern.” As a result, the disruption caused to the school district’s ability to teach was determined to outweigh O’Brien’s First Amendment rights.

Ultimate questions of whether or not a public employee’s private posts on social media websites are protected by the First Amendment will not be answered soon. In the interim, it seems wise for public employees to be judicious, remaining aware at all times that in an increasingly interconnected society, few things said in social media remain private for long. Although O’Brien’s punishment seems unnecessarily harsh, her experience serves as a reminder that a communication from a public employee may not be considered protected speech if it interferes with the operation of the agency that employs them.

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February 20, 2013

Historic Ruling Categorizes Food Allergies as a Disability

Should food allergies be considered a disability? Perhaps they should, at least according to a settlement recently reached between a college in Massachusetts and the Justice Department. The college in question, Lesley University, is now required to make accommodations for students who suffer from severe food allergies. The specific allergy in question is a wheat allergy called celiac disease, but this settlement may make a precedent for other food allergies.

Food%20Allergy%2048535487-001.jpgSupporters of the settlement say that it will grant important rights to college students who, in many cases, are required to participate in an on campus meal plan. Many institutions require students to purchase a cafeteria meal plan while living in on campus housing. For most students, this is an economical and convenient choice. However, those students who suffer from various food allergies may find that their food choices in the cafeteria are severely limited.

The result is sometimes weight loss and nutritional imbalance. Some students with food allergies and no alternatives are forced to pay for meal plans they never use while finding other ways to prepare appropriate food for themselves. On occasion, students have even taken the extreme step of moving off campus in order to enjoy more freedom to prepare their own food.

Those in opposition to the settlement suggest that federal government involvement in the food served by college cafeterias is absurd. They feel that colleges should be encouraged to work with students on a case by case basis, allowing some students to opt out of mandatory meal plans and providing appropriate dietary choices for others.

The settlement between the federal government and Lesley University provides only that the school must make reasonable modifications for students who consider themselves disabled as a result of their food allergy. However, many people who have food allergies are not yet accustomed to the idea that their disorder actually is a disability.

The finding that food allergies may qualify as disabilities is a surprising one that may provide future government protection not just for on campus college students, but also for students in elementary, middle and high schools.

February 15, 2013

Tennessee Senator Wants Classrooms to "Don't Say Gay"

A proposal to amend Title 49 of the Tennessee Code with regard to the discussion and instruction of gender orientation in the classroom is causing controversy, inciting satire and provoking theatrics. Senate Bill 234, sponsored by Tennessee Senator Stacey Campfield from Knoxville, aims to amend the Classroom Protection Act by adding a section that would essentially prohibit the introduction of any educational materials "inconsistent with natural human reproduction" in classrooms from preschool and kindergarten through the eighth grade.

Gay%20Rainbow%20Hand%2042143468-001.jpgSenate Bill 234, which has been nicknamed "Don't Say Gay" since it started making the rounds in the Tennessee legislature six years ago, is the latest attempt from Senator Campfield to push an agenda that would not only make it illegal to mention same-gender preference in the classroom before the ninth grade but would also require teachers to inform parents about non-heterosexual tendencies among students.

Senator Campfield's repeated attempts over the years at amending Title 49 of the Tennessee Code have not made it very far in the legislative process, but they have managed to attract controversy and media attention. Senator Campfield's remarks about homosexuality being a dangerous act comparable to the intravenous administration of heroin have made headlines, as well as his unwillingness to believe that sex education has a place in the classroom.

As in his previous bills, this one retains its proposed ban on classroom discussions related to all LGBT issues. There is also a provision which could be interpreted as requiring school officials to inform parents if they believe a child is gay.

The problem is that the wording leaves teachers with a lot of subjective interpretation before determining if a given situation requires notifying parents of their child’s sexuality. That type of potential (mis)interpretation will likely lead to numerous lawsuits, wasting countless dollars better utilized for education.

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February 8, 2013

Pending ACLU Lawsuit May Prevent Utah School Officials from Restricting Library Materials

The Davis School District in Davis County, Utah has reversed its decision to place a book depicting lesbian protagonists behind the librarian’s desk in several elementary schools. The book, In Our Mothers’ House by noted children’s author Patricia Polacco, was initially removed from Davis’ elementary school library shelves after a parent protest was launched by a mother whose kindergartener brought the book home.

In%20Our%20Mothers%27%20House.jpgThe mother’s petition to have the book removed from libraries garnered signatures from 25 other parents in the district. Officials responded by putting the book behind the librarian’s desk and requiring written parent permission for students to check out the book.

In response, the ACLU LGBT Project and the ACLU of Utah filed a lawsuit claiming that the move violated First Amendment rights. While parents in favor of the book’s removal stated that they did not want their children to have access to a book that “normalizes a lifestyle that we don’t agree with,” Tina Weber, on whose behalf the lawsuit was filed, cited the individual responsibility of parents to instill values in their children.

Weber, herself a mother of two children who attend an elementary school in the Davis district, believes parents have the right to limit what their children read, but that this right does not extend to restricting access to certain library materials. Weber states that the actions of the district have the effect of “imposing … personal views on the rest of the school community.”

Though litigation is still pending in the courts, the Davis School District has returned the book to the shelves of the library in the four elementary schools that own a copy. Still to be decided in the lawsuit is a question of interpretation of Utah’s sex education law which bans advocating a gay or lesbian lifestyle and whether or not this law extends to library materials. As the lawsuit cites, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled decades ago that school officials did not have the right to restrict library materials simply because “they or their constituents disagree with the ideas those books contain.”

February 1, 2013

Texas Lawmakers Introduce Bills to Ban use of RFID Badges to Track Students

On January 11, 2013 we published a blog post about the status of a lawsuit regarding the use of Smart (RFID) Badges in a Texas school district. While the appeal to a federal judge’s ruling continues, there has been a new development.

school%20bus%20%26%20child%2044980077-001.jpgTexas state representatives Lois Kolkhorst and Cindy Burkett have co-authored and introduced two bills, HB 101 and HB 102 which would prohibit the use of radio frequency identification technology (RFID) in public schools. They would also allow parents to opt out and prevent students from being punished for not participating in RFID programs.
Kolkhorst has introduced similar bills in previous legislative sessions which have failed to pass.

In addition to Burkett, she is also joined by state Senator Craig Estes. In response to the lawsuit against Northside Independent School District (NISD), Estes filed SB173 which also would prohibit the use of RFID technology in Texas schools.

School districts see this technology as having two primary benefits. First, it would aid school officials in locating every student in school during an emergency situation. It would also track attendance which has proven to increase school funding.

Two Houston area school districts have used the RFID technology with no major repercussions. They have also reported increased funding of hundreds of thousands of dollars by having more accurate attendance records.

On the other hand, Senator Estes stated “This RFID technology is very impressive when it comes to tracking cattle or products in a retail supply chain, but children aren't products or cattle.”

Ultimately, whether or not any of these bills pass in Texas, this may be a battle to be settled by the US Supreme Court. Meanwhile, school districts will each have to weigh the benefits of student security and funding against the potential costs including litigation.

Additionally, it is conceivable that these RFID badges could also be used to track when and where students get on and off school busses. They could even be used to prevent a student from getting on the wrong bus or getting off at the wrong stop. These uses could eliminate another set of school district problems related to student safety and security.

January 11, 2013

Federal Court Decision to Force Texas Student to Wear RFID Badge Appealed

Last year when Andrea Hernandez was issued a new “smart” Student ID embedded with an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chip by John Jay High School officials, she refused to wear it. The San Antonio high school student claimed it was an invasion of privacy which also infringed on her religious beliefs.

I%20D%20Badge%2042618245-001.jpgIn addition to the RFID chip, the ID included her name, photo and a bar code. It is designed to pinpoint the location of each student on campus, and track when they arrive and when they leave.

On behalf of Andrea Hernandez, the Rutherford Institute sent a letter to The Northside Independent School District (Texas) warning them not to force Andrea or any other student(s) to wear the RFID badges. Rutherford then filed for a preliminary injunction asking the court to prevent forcing students to wear the badges. It was denied.

The school district offered an accommodation, a badge for Andrea with the RFID chip and battery removed. The district stated that if Andrea did not wear the badge with no ID chip, she would have to leave her magnet school and return to her previous, non-magnet high school.

In November, Rutherford had the legal case removed (from the Texas state court system) to Federal Court.

On January 8, 2013, Federal District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled that since school officials offered a badge without the RFID-chip, they are acting within their rights to force students to wear the ID badge or face expulsion. In his decision Judge Garcia stated “The accommodation offered by the district is not only reasonable it removes plaintiff’s religious objection from legal scrutiny all together.”

One of the main purposes for the smart student badge system is student safety. In light of recent events in Connecticut, one would think that this new system would be welcomed.

But, Andrea Hernandez and her family are not giving up. Yesterday, the Rutherford Institute filed an appeal to District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling.

The appeal asks that Andrea be allowed to continue to attend her science and engineering magnet school until the appeal is decided. The school district has given Andrea until January 18 to either wear the special badge with the RFID chip removed, or leave school.

December 21, 2012

Parents Sue School District Over 7-year-old Daughter’s Death

A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Hillsborough School District in Tampa, Florida for the death of a seven-year old girl with special needs. Although Isabella Herrera was confined to a wheelchair because of her muscular dystrophy, the seven-year old wanted to feel like the rest of her classmates; Isabella insisted that her mother let her ride the school bus.

School%20Bus%2043843684-001.jpgEven though it is clearly stated on Isabella's Individual Education Plan (IEP), video footage from the school bus shows that neither the aide, Joanna Hamilton, nor the bus driver, Tonia Pizarro, properly tilted Isabella's wheelchair. For seventeen minutes, Isabella's unstable head bobbed backwards and forwards, and she started choking.

On January 25, 2012, Lisa Herrera, Isabella's mother, received the call. Instead of calling 911, the aide on the school bus called the girl's mother.

Isabella's parents are outraged about how the adults on the bus reacted once they realized that something was wrong with Isabella. Even though Isabella had turned blue, video footage shows how neither the bus driver nor the aide ever called 911. The adults never tried to perform CPR on Isabella either. Ironically, the bus stopped in front of a pediatric clinic and neither Pizarro nor Hamilton tried to get help for Isabella. Isabella died the next day at the hospital.

Isabella's parents are suing on the grounds of negligence. Her parents hope that their lawsuit will prevent other family's from losing their children. They also feel that Isabella's civil rights as a disabled person were violated when the school district failed to effectively meet Isabella's transportation needs that are protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

A spokesperson for the Hillsborough School District Stephen Hegarty, commented that their bus drivers do receive basic training in things like CPR. However, bus drivers and aides do not have to receive training for assisting children with special needs, even though this training is available. Hegarty claims that the school district is currently reevaluating its training policies.

December 6, 2012

Twitter or Tinker? Illinois Students Suspended Over Social Media Comments

The uneasy intersection of social media and the First Amendment took another twisted turn in late October with the suspension of 10 high school students over their use of Twitter. The students in question attend Granite City High School, part of Community Unit School District 9 in Southwestern Illinois.

Social%20Media%2037877338-001.jpgIt all started with a tweet that included a student's opinion of a female teacher. The tweet referred to the teacher as a MILF, a colloquial acronym used to describe a mature, attractive woman with high sex appeal. Principal Jim Greenwald conducted an inquiry and found out that two students chose to re-tweet the original message. Another student deemed it worthy of a favorite mention.

The Twitter interaction between those four students resulted in their suspension, but that did not stop the investigation. School officials later found more tweets posted by the student body, including one by a young woman who in jest tweeted musings about blowing up the school in order to defer classes. That was suspension number five, which was extended to three other students who participated in re-tweeting.

Once news of the eight suspensions traveled through social networks, the situation escalated in Granite City High. Students who felt that their freedom to tweet had been threatened exercised their freedom of speech by posting fliers showing their disapproval. Two of those students were called into Principal Greenwald's office and were summarily suspended.

Though no legal action has been taken on the Granite City High matter, the suspensions evoke comparisons to Tinker v. Des Moines, the landmark 1969 Supreme Court case made memorable by the late Justice Abe Fortas' opinion that students are not stripped of their First Amendment rights when they step into school grounds.

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November 29, 2012

In Idaho, a Scarlet Letter for Deficient Elementary Readers

Slow readers in a fourth grade Idaho classroom were given an unusual menu of options as a result of not meeting their academic goals: miss recess or have their faces painted with magic markers by their classmates. Six students at Declo Elementary School in an Accelerated Reading program agreed to have their faces scribbled by peers as punishment for their poor reading performance.

child%20reading%2043946851-001.jpgAccording to various news reports, the Magic Valley students got creative with the magic markers. They drew mustaches, eyeglass frames and names in green, purple and red colors. A local news outlet reported that the mother of a 10-year old student was astonished to see her son's entire face and eyelids covered in colorful, yet crude, scrawls. The face painting took place during morning period, which means that the students were branded the entire day of classes in shame.

The incident recalls the badge of shame worn by Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, down to the Puritan-like consensus and supervision by the teacher in charge. The educator, who is reported to have six years of teaching experience, has not answered to information requests by news reporters. The Cassia County School District Superintendent has confirmed the incident and explained that the face scribbling was supposed to be an incentive rather than a shaming.

Initial investigations by school officials revealed that a recent Parents-Teacher Organization event featured the painting of the Principal's face and hair, but the Superintendent is concerned that such actions do not translate well when applied to children. Some parents are comparing the incident with bullying, while the parents of the students who met their reading goals do not think it was such a big deal. The problem, according to one grandparent, is that some of the marked children already deal with learning difficulties and self-esteem issues.

The judgment of the teacher is being questioned as the students' reading adequacy is a significant part of her responsibility as an educator. After being absent for a couple of days, she is back in the classroom while the investigation continues.

November 16, 2012

T-shirts Test Tinker in Ohio High School

Celina, population 10,400 according to the 2010 Census, is a small town in Western Ohio that has seen recently seen increased testing of First Amendment rights with regard to protected speech. Twenty local high school students were scolded by administrators when they showed up wearing t-shirts with homemade designs that allegedly supported homosexual relationships. Other than being lambasted by school officials, the students were also prohibited from wearing the t-shirts that had slogans with the words "lesbian 1 and 2," as well as expressions like "I support" and "express yourself" next to a graphic representation of a rainbow.

Censorship%2032058275-001.jpgThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) looked into the matter and issued a statement. The ACLU discouraged school officials from suppressing the free speech rights of students just because their opinion may not be popular, something often referred to as "conceding to the heckler's veto." Celina City School District superintendent Jesse Steiner told the press that the students were directed to remove the t-shirts because they were causing a disruption on campus.

The incident at Celina High School bears some resemblance to the oft-cited Tinker v. Des Moines landmark case and its effect on free speech at public schools. Just like at Celina High School, students involved in the Tinker case chose to express free speech by donning black armbands in support of a truce and ceasefire during the Vietnam War in 1969. Tinker has been thoroughly tested, however, by Bethel School District v. Fraser in 1986, whereupon the Supreme Court ruled that sexual innuendo at school did not amount to free speech.

The City of Celina's motto is "One Of The 100 Best Small Towns!" Despite Celina's small town charms, deep political convictions and testing of free speech seem to polarize the population. In mid-November, the Students4Life anti-abortion group of Celina High School erected a display of 300 white crosses and pro-life banners in a small vacant lot. This display does not sit well with some residents, but it was erected in anticipation of a visit by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who is also pro-life.

November 2, 2012

Can a School Prevent Disruption While Protecting Students’ First Amendment Rights?

It all started in April 2011 when Waynesville, Ohio high school student Maverick Couch wore a T-shirt with the words “JESUS IS NOT A HOMOPHOBE” appearing with a rainbow Christian symbol Ichthys, or “sign of the fish”. When he was asked by his principal to remove it, he did.

T%20Shirt%20Rainbow%2027321246-001.jpgIn August 2011, Maverick asked permission to wear the T-shirt again. His request is denied and he is allegedly threatened with suspension if he wears it. Next, Lambda Legal gets involved on Maverick’s behalf. Lambda sends a letter outlining Maverick’s First Amendment rights to school authorities. The letter informs the school that Maverick’s right to wear the T-shirt is constitutionally protected.

The school district responds, saying that the T-shirt is sexual in nature and therefor indecent and inappropriate for school.

Lambda files a lawsuit in federal court against the Wayne Local School District. The lawsuit can be viewed HERE. After clicking on the link, the lawsuit document can be found by scrolling down the page and it is followed by a copy of the school district's response to Lambda's letter.

Earlier this year, that lawsuit was resolved in favor of Maverick Couch. Principal Randy Gebhardt and the Wayne Local School District agreed to have a judgment entered against them. That judgment allows Maverick to wear his T-shirt to school any time he wants. It also awarded him $20,000 for damages, attorney’s fees and costs.

The challenge for schools and school districts is that while protecting students’ rights, they must simultaneously prevent disruption at school and to the educational process.

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October 24, 2012

Nursing Teacher’s Lawsuit Settled: Will the Conflict Continue?

In a post last year, we wrote about a lawsuit about a teacher in Colorado claimed her school was not following Colorado’s Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act of 2008. Although the lawsuit has been settled, both sides have different views of the future.

Breast%20Pump%2034033989-001.jpgHeather Burgbacher was a technology teacher at the Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen, an independent public charter school in Evergreen Colorado. In 2010 after giving birth to her daughter, Burgbacher complained to school officials that her needs related to breastfeeding were not being met. Then she was fired.

Next, Burgbacher contacted the ACLU who filed suit. That suit is now settled.

ACLU attorney Rebecca Wallace stated that this settlement was the first “…protecting the rights of working mothers to have accommodations in the workplace so that they can pump breast milk." Another attorney involved on Burgbacher’s team said the school will now make policy changes required in the settlement.

Kelli Anderson of the school’s charter board commented, "We have no need to make any changes to our policies or procedures…” Anderson goes on to say that the settlement establishes that the school did not do anything wrong. She also states that Burgbacher was never fired; her contract was not renewed when the school’s needs changed. Anderson also said that the settlement was a business decision.

The settlement also included monetary compensation for Burgbacher, the amount of which is being kept confidential.

September 27, 2012

Parents Sue Over Use of Scream Room

An Arizona school district is facing a lawsuit filed by parents who say their 7-year-old son was routinely kept locked in a five by six foot windowless padded room while other students were educated. Eric and Leslie Noyes say that school staff at Desert Sage Elementary School disobeyed their child’s doctor’s orders by feeding him foods that caused him to have allergic reactions, including behavioral difficulties. The Noyeses claim that school staff routinely induced their son’s reactions to the forbidden substances, then punished him severely for the reactions.

padded%20room%2038681100-001.jpgThe lawsuit (available HERE) accuses school staff of false imprisonment, committing assault and battery against T. N., gross negligence and intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the child. It asks for compensation for the medical treatment T. N. required as a result of the treatment he received, for the district to pay additional transportation costs required to send the boy to a school in another district and for general damages.

The Noyeses claim that they notified the school of their son’s strictly controlled, medically necessary diet. However, school officials continued to feed the boy restricted foods and forced him into the unventilated, windowless box as many as four times each week over the course of more than four months. Some confinements lasted for nearly the entire school day. Teachers used enough force to cause multiple bruises, including dragging T. N. and dropping him onto his head. One teacher even fell on him. Additionally, staff put pressure on T. N.’s back and forced him to lie with his face in the carpet, where he inhaled chemicals used to clean the carpet, causing severe allergic reactions.

T. N. suffered from respiratory distress and experienced panic attacks while he was in the box, according to the suit. He was not allowed to leave the box to urinate or defecate, and when forced to urinate on himself in the box, he received additional punishment, including being forced to disrobe in front of school staff.

As a result of his treatment at the hands of school officials, the lawsuit claims that T. N. suffers from constant anxiety and fear, accompanied by nightmares and other sleep disturbances, stomach pain and emotional problems. The boy’s parents state that, in violation of district rules, they were only notified that their son was being confined on two of the many occasions it occurred.

September 20, 2012

Teacher Settles Tenure Lawsuit Against School District

A Hartford, CT school district will pay $20,000 to a teacher who was let go in spite of the fact that she was tenured. The Rocky Hill Board of Education agreed to the settlement after Margaret Hale filed a lawsuit at the Superior Court in Hartford. The suit alleged that the district violated state and federal law when it made hiring decisions without holding a hearing on Hale’s tenure claim.

Employment%20Contract%2044108074-001.jpgAccording to Hale, state law required the district to give her one of the two full-time positions that were open at the time her position was eliminated. Instead, Hale was let go and the open positions were given to a non-tenured teacher and an inexperienced new hire. After being passed over for the positions she was legally entitled to, Hale was rehired for her original position when it was reestablished. She asked the court to order that she be reinstated at the school as a full-time teacher and that the date of reinstatement be made June 2011.

Hale was a high school English teacher at Rocky Hill High School in Hartford when her position was eliminated due to budget cuts. She had held the position since 2008 and had received tenure. According to the suit, Hale immediately informed the district that she was interested in one of two open full-time positions and requested a formal hearing. Instead of granting her request, she claimed the district violated Connecticut’s Teacher Tenure Act by delaying, then attempting to rescind Hale’s termination and give her a more limited part-time position. Hale could not accept the district’s offer because it violated the district’s teacher contract and would have voided her health insurance coverage and reduced her pay grade.

In response to the lawsuit, Hale was hired as a full-time teacher, and the district’s school board voted to pay her $20,000 to cover the wages and benefits she lost due to the district’s actions and to pay for legal fees. She will also meet privately with the school board and the district’s superintendent to discuss the district’s plan to ensure compliance with state law in the future.

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September 14, 2012

School Psychologist Receives 180k in Settlement for Whistleblowing

A school district in Tucson, Ariz., has agreed to a settlement with a former employee who claimed she was fired for trying to get the district to adhere to federal disability laws. Tucson Unified School District will pay Rose Hamway, a former school psychologist for the district, $180,000.

Ignored%2017868637-001.jpgAccording to Hamway, who was forced to leave the district in 2010 after the school board refused to renew her contract, the problems began after she noted that some students' federal rights were being violated. She sought the help of district officials to educate special education workers and school administrators about federal disability laws.

Instead of protecting students by ensuring the law was enforced, however, Hamway was disciplined for bringing the matter to the district's attention. When violations continued unchecked, Hamway continued to advocate for students by telling special-education staff that if they didn't obey the law she would share her concerns with the Arizona Department of Education. In response, the district reprimanded Hamway, specifically citing her threat to report illegal activity as the reason for their actions. Eventually, Hamway was let go over her insistence that the district comply with federal law.

In addition to the lawsuit, Hamway filed a discrimination complaint the the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Education. In her complaint, Hamway described what she called a hostile work environment created by the district in response to her attempts to advocate for disabled students. The civil rights office substantiated her claims and continues to monitor the district. It also found that the district failed to address Hamway's complaints on behalf of the school's students.

In addition to paying Hamway, the school district was ordered to take corrective action that includes familiarizing staff and administrators with education on the regulations regarding retaliation and enforcing discrimination grievance procedures.

September 7, 2012

Pediatricians Allege Clovis Unified School District Thumbs Nose at California Law

The Clovis (California) Unified School District is at the center of a groundbreaking lawsuit that demands that it begin providing students with the sexual information the state has determined they need. The lawsuit, which focuses on the district's sex education curriculum, contends that the district does not provide the required skills and information necessary to prepare students for responsible sexual activity as required by law. It also accuses the district of endangering the health of students by withholding state-mandated information on birth control and STD prevention.

Sex%20Ed%2040248067-001.jpgAccording to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is representing the plaintiffs, California law has required public schools to provide comprehensive, medically accurate sex education since 2003. According to an ACLU representative, state law mandates that teenagers be taught how to develop healthy relationships and that they be provided information on the benefits of delaying sex. However, they are also to be taught about contraception and STD prevention.

The lawsuit, which was brought by the American Academy of Pediatrics along with the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and parents, claims that the Clovis Unified School District ignores California law. It alleges the district's program tells students only that even adults should never have sex outside of marriage, in spite of the fact that state law permits consensual sex for adults outside of marriage and does not allow people with some sexual orientations the option of marriage.

Clovis Unified School District has nearly 40,000 students and 40 schools and serves Fresno County. A district spokesperson attributed the concerns behind the lawsuit to a difference between the district's interpretation of the law and the plaintiffs' interpretation of it. However, spokesperson Kelly Avants did not argue with the suit's depiction of the school's sex education program or deny that the district's sex education curriculum is built around a philosophy that says sex is acceptable only within marriage, claiming only that the district's procedures for parent notification as described in the suit are not accurately described.

August 22, 2012

School District Pays $500K for Students' InappropriatePunishment

A New Jersey board of education has agreed to pay $500,000 to seven Hispanic children who were forced to eat lunch on the floor for a week as their schoolmates ate at tables nearby. According to court documents, the fifth-grade students were punished because one of their classmates spilled water and were threatened with more severe punishment if they told anyone what was happening to them.

Punishment%2034841747.jpgThe Camden Board of Education agreed to the settlement but did not admit any guilt. The board had already settled a case involving the children's teacher, Jose Rivera, who was fired after he went to the board to express his concerns over the incident.

The unusual punishment was meted out by school administrator Theresa Brown in February of 2008 at Liberty Park's Charles Sumner Elementary School. The nature of the punishment, along with school district personnel's behavior afterwards added to the tension between the area's Hispanic and black communities and led to claims of bias against Hispanic students in the local schools.

The suit stated that a student in the class was trying to replace a water cooler jug for a substitute teacher when a spill occurred. In response, Brown administered the punishment to the entire class, including some students who were not at school when the spill occurred.

When parents learned of Brown's actions, they attempted to meet with principal Alex DeFlavis, who refused to see them. Rivera learned of the incident from a secretary when he returned to school. As word of the incident spread, enraged members of the Hispanic community, including some then-current school board members, demanded Brown be fired. In spite of community outrage, Sara Davis, who was the school board president at the time, dismissed the incident, calling it isolated.

The New Jersey Department of Education disagreed with Davis. It ruled that the punishment had occurred and that it was not an isolated incident. The department ordered the school to submit a plan of action for preventing future incidents. However, it did not agree that the action was racist.

Following the announcement of the settlement, Davis changed her stance on the matter, issuing a public apology. Brown, however, is still employed as a vice principal by the district.

August 9, 2012

ACLU Warns School to End Blatant Discrimination

A public school in Louisiana has posted a school policy that is in direct violation of federal law, and the ACLU has issued a warning to the school to drop the policy or face legal consequences. The ACLU letter may be viewed HERE.

Preg%20Test%2032390275.jpgAccording to the Delhi Charter School's own aptly titled Student Pregnancy Policy, the school, which receives public funding, intends to openly act in violation of the Title IX law that forbids schools from excluding female students from “any class or extracurricular activity on the basis of such student’s pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery therefrom.” The school also intends to violate student's rights to procreate and to receive equal protection under the law, which are both guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. Under the 14th Amendment, it is illegal to subject girls to requirements that boys are not held to.

In an official policy reminiscent of the virginity examinations that have been prosecuted as unlawful even in many countries where women have few rights, the school's policy states that if a female student is suspected of being pregnant, she will have to be examined by a physician of the school's choice. If she is determined to be pregnant, or if she refuses the examination, she will no longer be allowed to attend school. Should the student wish to remain enrolled in the school, she will have to do her work at home, excluded from the rest of the student body.

The policy does not directly state a reason for shunning pregnant students. However, the fact that male students are not subject to being banned from attending campus regardless of the number of children they father makes it clear that pregnant girls are considered pariahs who deserve to be forced to display scarlet badges of shame while the boys who fathered their unborn children deserve to maintain their social status.

In light of the fact that more than two-thirds of teenaged students who have babies end up leaving school, U.S. social policy has long focused on increasing support for pregnant teenagers and encouraging them to remain in school. Pregnant teenagers face numerous barriers to finishing their educations. Illegal discrimination is still one of the barriers that work together to prevent young mothers from achieving their potential.

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July 27, 2012

Hot Dogging Vice Principal Wins $150k in Wrongful Termination Settlement

A high school vice-principal who claims he was forced into early retirement for refusing to give special treatment to students with powerful parents has reached a settlement with the school board that will allow him to collect $150,000 in compensation.

Wrongful%20Termination.jpgPete Corbett sued the Kanawha County Board of Education after he took early retirement in 2008. The suit claimed that he was muscled out of his position at George Washington High School in Charleston, W.Va, when he resisted school superintendent Ron Duerring's orders to treat certain students differently based on the clout their families have in the community. Duerring has denied the allegations.

The school board maintains that Corbett retired after he was suspended indefinitely for insubordination. An independent hearing examiner has ruled that he was insubordinate in a related incident in which Corbett allowed students to have a hot dog cookout on school property during the week of the anniversary of the Columbine shootings. The cookout was in violation of a temporary ban on outdoor activities enacted by the school's principal in response to a shooting spree at Virginia Tech and concerns about the anniversary. Corbett claimed he was unaware of the ban but was suspended for five days.

During his suspension, the former vice principal grilled and sold hot dogs on the public sidewalk in front of the school system's office. The school board responded by suspending Corbett from his position indefinitely on the grounds that his behavior constituted insubordination and demonstrated a lack of respect for the school system. Shortly afterwards, Corbett retired.

The settlement does not include an admission of wrongdoing on the part of the school board or the superintendent. However, the agreement between the parties calls for the school board to pay Corbett $150,000. The school's insurance will pay one third of the settlement, but the district will have to come up with the rest. According to a statement from Duerring, the school board agreed to the settlement so that the board could turn its attention back to educating the district's children.

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July 20, 2012

Michigan Sued by ACLU Over Children's Right to Read

In a ground-breaking move, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan has brought a lawsuit on behalf of the children of the state of Michigan. The suit asserts that the state, the Michigan Department of Education and the Highland Park school district have deprived children of their right to read. According to the ACLU, the defendants have violated the state's constitution by neglecting to ensure that children are able to read at grade level.

illiteracy.jpgAccording to the executive director of the Michigan ACLU, Kary Moss, "Literacy is the gateway to all other knowledge." Michigan law states that students who are below reading level are entitled to special help sufficient to get them up to grade level within 12 months, and the ACLU is seeking to force the state and its schools to meet that law.

The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of a handful of children who represent the rest of the students in the district. According to court documents, the students all fell behind and remained woefully behind year after year but were never given the special help the law requires.

Highland Park is one of the poorest performing schools in America, according to the Michigan ACLU. In fact, one of Governor Rick Snyder's first moves upon taking office was to appoint an emergency manager to attempt to help the district improve its performance.

Michigan's attorney general, Bill Schuette, has not commented on the case. Both the Michigan Department of Education and a spokesperson for the governor stated they are unable to comment on the action, but the spokesperson did issue a statement that “Everything we have done and are doing is to ensure that the kids of Highland Park schools get the education they need and deserve."

According to Moss, the case has implications that reach far beyond Michigan's borders. "If we're not preparing our children, there is no way our economy can recover,” said Moss.

July 12, 2012

Texas Principal Arrested for Videotaping Girls' in Locker Room

A Texas high school principal and former school board member is facing up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for ordering her teenaged daughter to plant a hidden surveillance camera in a girl's locker room.

According to prosecutors in Denton County, Texas, Wendee Long is not only the principal of Fort Worth's Wayside Middle School, she is also the parent of two daughters who attend nearby Argyle High School. Long's daughters, who used to play for their school's basketball team, allegedly told their mother that their coach screamed at the players when no one was around.

As many parents would be, Long was concerned about the situation, say prosecutors. However, what she did next was a step too far, they say. Authorities say Long had her daughter smuggle a camera phone into the locker room during an away game at Sanger High School and set it to record everything that was said at halftime.

The resulting video showed no wrongdoing, according to the investigators. However, Long did not erase the video once the coach was cleared. The video ended up in the hands of a viewer who sent it to the school board, who handed it over to the police.

Local authorities investigated the case, and Long was eventually indicted by a grand jury for improper photography as well as felony wiretapping. Her daughter is not being charged.

According to assistant prosecutor Jaime Beck, the setting in which the surveillance took place, coupled with Long's intention to invade the privacy of the coach and all the young players are the key factors that make Long different from a mother who captures mall employees in the background while recording her children eating ice cream.

Prosecutors said the charges were so serious because Long intended to invade someone's privacy. "This occurred in a private girls locker room," said Beck.

Long was released on $25,000 bail and is on paid administrative leave from her job. The district has stated that it will conduct its own investigation. Her attorney, Daniel Peugh, expressed surprise at the charges his client is facing. “She has not violated any law,” he said.

June 29, 2012

School Board to Reimburse Teacher's Legal Fees

A Virginia school district has agreed to pay a portion of the legal fees of a teacher who was acquitted of charges he molested a pre-teen student. The Fairfax County School Board has settled with Sean Lanigan, and will pay nearly $73,000 towards his legal expenses.

Legal%20Fees%20Paid.jpgLanigan, who was a teacher and coach at several district schools, was accused of assaulting a 12-year-old girl during school hours in front of three other students. The accusation resulted in two felony charges that were later deemed unfounded by the Fairfax County Circuit Court. Before the ordeal was over, however, Lanigan had spent $125,000 defending himself against the charges.

Virginia state law contains provisions for government employees to recover legal fees from their employers if they are acquitted of a crime. Some of Lanigan's costs were not eligible for reimbursement, but he initially asked for the district to pay him almost $108,000. Eventually, the school board offered him $60,000. Lanigan refused the initial settlement and sued the school board for the full amount of his legal expenses.

Faced with the prospect of going to court, the board agreed to the current settlement. A school board spokesperson explained that the amount the board offered was intended to make up the difference between the amount Lanigan's union insurance policy paid towards his bills and the amount he paid to defend himself. Lanigan was forced to cover the cost of suing the school board from his own pocket.

In an interview, Lanigan expressed his disappointment with the settlement. Although he admitted that the school board had no legal obligation to cover the entire cost of his defense, he pointed to the long delay between his request for reimbursement and the final agreement and said that if the board “...wanted to truly back their teacher, they would take care of me.”

The spokesperson for the school board defended the delay. John Torre said that the final settlement was virtually the same as the one the board offered in the fall of 2011, a claim that Lanigan's attorney, William Reichhardt,denied.

June 15, 2012

Another School Bullying Case -- This Time the Teacher is Accused

Two elementary school teachers from San Antonio have been removed from the classroom after allegedly ordering students to attack one of their classmates. According to police and a spokesperson for the Judson Independent School District, a teacher punished the student, who is not in her class, because another teacher claimed he was a bully. According to Aidan's mother, Amy Neely, no one from the school ever mentioned that Aidan was suspected of being a bully.

Bully%20Free%20Classroom.jpgThe school district's account matches the police report in nearly every respect. According to both sources, Aidan's teacher went to another teacher for advice. The other teacher responded by ordering the rest of the class to line up and take turns hitting Aidan. According to police, the teacher encouraged the children by telling them to "Hit him!" and even to "Hit him harder!" Eventually, after a particularly brutal blow to the child's upper back, another teacher stepped in and ended the assault.

Eventually, the teacher who stopped the assault reported the incident. Neely says that is when she found out about the unusual discipline session. According to her, most of the 24 children in the class hit her son more than once. According to the police report, some of the children said they didn't want to participate but did so because they were afraid of what would happen if they didn't.

Neely reported the attack to the police, and says she wants to make sure the teacher who initiated the attack is never allowed around children again.

Linscomb did not specify what would be done to the teacher who stood by while the six-year-old was beaten. However, he said that the teacher who ordered the assault will not be allowed to return to her position at the school. According to Linscomb, she is a "...relatively young teacher and just needed to be re-educated and reminded what needs to happen in the classroom."

Prosecutors, however, may not agree that a reminder is all that is necessary in this case. They are reviewing the facts of the case in order to decide whether to file formal charges.

June 1, 2012

Did Bullying Lead to Suicide? Lawsuit Dismissed

A U.S. district judge in Rome, Georgia, has dismissed a case alleging the Murray County school system was responsible for the suicide of high school student Tyler Long. Judge Harold Murphy made the decision even though he acknowledged that the bullying “was sufficiently severe and pervasive that it altered the condition of his education and created an abusive educational environment.” The judge also agreed that there was evidence that the bullying led directly to the child’s suicide and that school officials knew about the bullying when it was occurring.

Case%20Dismissed.jpgThe boy’s parents, David and Tina Long, had sought to hold the school responsible for not protecting him from the bullying. Long, who struggled with autism spectrum disorder and other psychological issues, was targeted by his bullies because of his disability, a claim the judge also agreed with.

Long’s suicide occurred in October of 2009, and his parents have sought to hold the school district, along with Long’s principal, Gina Linder, responsible for doing little to protect their son. Although Murphy agreed with the Long’s version of the story, he found that the school system had no custodial relationship with the bullied child and that it had no duty to protect him from his bullies.

The principal and the school system are “extremely pleased with the result,” said Martha Pearson, who represented them in the suit. The Longs, however, vowed to keep fighting. Their case has garnered a great deal of attention and sympathy from the public. The Longs had argued that the school system and Linder ignored their pleas to step in and take action against the bullies after their son was repeatedly bullied both physically and verbally in front of multiple witnesses.

“It’s a sad day in our society when we send our kids to a public school, and then a school district can be said not to be liable for the safety of a kid,” said David Long. “... Where do parents go? Here you’ve got institutions that taxpayers pay money for and that they have to send their kids to school, but yet they’re not accountable for their actions and inactions?”

Judge Murphy ruled that the defendant’s behavior does not rise to the level of deliberate indifference, which he said was necessary before the case could be heard by a jury. The Longs’ attorney, W. Winston Briggs, disagrees and says that he believes the judge is reading the law too narrowly.

“I just think he’s either implied too exacting of a standard, or you just simply can’t sue a school for this, ever,” said Briggs, who vowed to appeal the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court.

May 24, 2012

Judge Rules Cheating Student Cannot Return to Honors Class

A judge has ruled that a student who admits to cheating in his honors English class must accept the school’s decision to remove him from the class. A legal action filed on behalf of the student had sought to allow the student to return to the class pending the outcome of a court case challenging the school’s decision.

Cheating%20on%20test.jpgJudge George Miram of the San Mateo County Superior Court issued the ruling on the grounds that the student’s attorney did not give him enough reason to believe the student will win his case when it gets to court.

In his decision, Miram pointed out that the fact that there is no dispute that the Sequoia High School sophomore cheated by copying another student’s work. He also stated that the argument presented by the plaintiff fails to acknowledge the seriousness of the boy’s actions.

The suit, which was initiated by the student’s father, Jack Bergman, names Sequoia Union High School District, as well as the district superintendent and the student’s principal as defendants. In court documents, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated the student’s right to due process.

Bergman admits that his son cheated. His case argues, however, that the school’s cheating policy is unclear and, as a result, is unenforceable. As evidence, he points to conflicting statements about the consequences of cheating that were included as part of an anti-cheating pledge his son signed when he was admitted to the class.

Furthermore, the case claims that the punishment does not fit the crime, since being forced to attend the school’s regular English class will have a negative impact on the boy’s future. It argues that the regular class will leave the student unprepared for future honors classes in English.

Miram disagreed with the argument, stating that Bergman and his attorney had failed to demonstrate that putting the student in a regular classroom prevents him from learning.

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May 17, 2012

High School Swimmer Sues to Make Her Scores Count

Illinois state attorney general Lisa Madigan has joined the federal lawsuit of an Illinois high school student who is seeking to force the state into compliance with the federal Rehabilitation and Americans with Disabilities acts. The suit, which was also joined by disability advocate group Equip for Equality, was brought against the Illinois High School Association by Mary Kate Callahan of La Grange, Illinois.

Swim%20meet%20score.jpgCallahan, who is a quadriplegic, is a member of her school’s swim team and competes in local meets just like the other students on the team. Unlike the scores of other students, however, Callahan’s scores don’t count. They are never added into her team’s total. Furthermore, Callahan is not allowed to compete in state meets.

This is not good enough for Callahan, who points out that many other states allow athletes with disabilities to compete fully in sports rather than limiting their participation.

In an interview, Madigan stated that the aim of the suit is to establish qualifying standards that will allow all students to compete at the state level, set records and earn recognition for their athletic achievements.

State Attorney Madigan initially tried to resolve the issue outside the courtroom. In response to her efforts, the Illinois High School Association sued the attorney general’s office in an attempt to force her to give up on the cause.

The association stands by its current practices and claims its separate-but-not-quite-equal approach towards disabled athletes is good enough. In a statement, Marty Hickman, the group’s Executive Director characterized his group as leaders in the fight to raise awareness about the abilities of student athletes with disabilities. Callahan remains unconvinced. According to her, she and other athletes with disabilities just want to be allowed to “...represent our high school like other students are."

Callahan, who began swimming competitively when she was six years old, especially enjoys swimming because it gives her an opportunity to move freely without her wheelchair. In spite of the opposition of the Illinois High School Association to her cause, Callahan holds out hope that she will be allowed to participate fully in her sport during her senior year at Fenwick High School.

May 11, 2012

Student's False Arrest Leads to Lawsuit

The daughter of Debashish Biswas, the Vice-Consul in the Consulate General of India in New York, has filed a $1.5 million suit against the city of New York. Krittika Biswas alleges that she was taken from her high school classroom in handcuffs and imprisoned after she was falsely accused of sending sexually threatening emails to a teacher.

arrested%20student.jpgEven after another student from John Browne High School in Queens admitted to the crime and all charges against Biswas were dropped, the honor student was suspended from school and forced to attend what the suit calls the equivalent of a reform school.

Biswas’ lawsuit was filed in the US District Court Southern District of New York. It alleges that the plaintiffs, including the city of New York, the Department of Education, specific officials from the Department of Education, the principal of John Browne High School, the teacher who received the emails and Raymond Kelly, police commissioner of the city of New York, violated 26 state and federal laws during the incident.

According to court documents, Biswas was arrested, handcuffed, processed and imprisoned for more than 24 hours. The suit alleges that she was arrested and mistreated in spite of the fact that there was no evidence against her as a result of ethnic bias. Court papers also state that Biswas was denied the opportunity to consult her parents or to meet with Indian diplomats while she was in custody. When Biswas refused to confess, a police officer attempted to intimidate her by telling her she would be jailed with inmates who were HIV-positive.

Included in the documents are allegations that Biswas suffered from so much mental distress as a result of the incident that she left the United States and returned to India. She is currently a college student in that country, and is majoring in science and engineering.

Attorneys for the city of New York declined to comment, stating that they had not had a chance to review the suit.

April 27, 2012

School District Settles First Amendment Lawsuit with Union

A lawsuit claiming the Sumner County (TN) Board of Education violated the First Amendment rights of teachers union members will be settled out of court, according to representatives for both sides.

Sumner%20County%20TN.jpgThe action, which was filed in September 2011 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee by the Sumner County Education Association (SCEA), claimed the district violated rights granted to its members by the Professional Employees Collaborative Conferencing Act (PECCA) of 2011.

According to court documents, the district's Director of Schools, Del Phillips, had refused the union permission to participate in an event for new teachers and then issued a letter forbidding SCEA members from engaging in union-related activities on school grounds or using school bulletin boards or email to distribute SCEA business. The letter also tried to limit the union's ability to solicit new members. According to the suit, the refusal and the subsequent restrictions violated state law as well as the First Amendment.

The court ordered the board to drop some of the restrictions in December of 2011. The current settlement will remove the rest of them. As part of the settlement, Phillips will send a letter explaining that the law requires the board to allow activities it had attempted to restrict. The board also agreed to begin withholding payroll deductions for union fees and other eligible groups and to pay $50,000 to the union for legal fees. The board agreed to quarterly meetings between SCEA representatives and Phillips.

SCEA president, Alzenia Walls issued a press release stating that she was pleased with the settlement, which she views as vindication of the union's stance on the issue. Walls expressed hopes that the agreement would result in a better relationship between the school board and union members.

Art McClellan, legal counsel for the school, said the settlement did not mean the board was out of line. He called the decision to settle an economic one, citing the potential cost of defending a First Amendment case.

Although McClellan took responsibility for the decision to settle out of court, the final settlement was approved 7-4 in a vote by school board members.

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April 16, 2012

School District Settles Bully Lawsuit for $4.2 Million

The Ramsey School District in New Jersey has settled a lawsuit brought by a former student who was paralyzed by a bully at Eric Smith Middle School. The district will pay $4.2 million to the family of Sawyer Rosenstein, who was paralyzed from the waist down after the last in a series of attacks by a bully.

Bullying%20Stops%20Now.jpgRosenstein was 12 years old when he was attacked for the final time by the other student. In spite of reaching out to school staff, including sending an email pleading for help from a school counselor just three months before the attack, the middle-school student was punched in the abdomen in May of 2006. The blow brought Rosenstein to his knees, but he was able to get back up afterwards. Although he experienced back pain that evening, he seemed fine otherwise.

Two days after the attack, Rosenstein screamed and collapsed. He never walked again. The attack had led to a blood clot, which starved his spine of blood and resulted in permanent paralysis.

The suit cited the email as well as attacks on other students as evidence that the school knew or should have known that the bullying was taking place. It further alleged that the school failed to take proper actions necessary to comply with state law.

The Ramsey Board of Education issued a statement in which they deny the allegations that they handled the situation improperly and stated that the decision to settle the lawsuit was made by the school's insurance company.

Rosenstein, who currently studies communication at Syracuse University, said in an interview that he considers it important to speak out about his case so that other children who are victimized by bullies will know that they can go on to lead normal lives. He also wants to warn bullies that their behavior can have devastating consequences for their victims.

For Rosenstein's bully, justice was slow in claiming its due. The district treated the situation lightly and meted out only a brief suspension for the attack that changed Rosenstein's life forever. Recently, however, Rosenstein settled out of court with the attacker's family.

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April 6, 2012

Florida Whistleblower Alleges Misconduct at Charter School

The embattled for-profit organization that runs the new Mavericks High School in Palm Springs is the subject of yet another lawsuit filed on behalf of a former employee. Mavericks in Education Florida LLC is being sued by a former teacher who claims the school administration regularly forges enrollment records and gives students credit for classes that aren’t even offered at the school.

Federal%20Whistleblower%20Law.jpgAngenora Mechato is the third employee to file court documents alleging misconduct on the part of the school. The company, which runs a number of charter schools in Florida, has yet to respond to the latest lawsuit, which claims that Mechato was fired for refusing to falsify documents so that the school could get more state funding.

According to Mechato, the school inflates its enrollment numbers to gain funding to which it is not entitled and enrolls students and gives them grades in courses that don’t exist outside the school's paperwork.

Lauren Hollander, one of the company’s managers, said in an interview that the lawsuit is baseless and pointed out that the new lawsuit is identical in some places to the earlier suits, which were filed by the same attorney, Dale Morgado.

The three former employees named as plaintiffs in the cases are not alone in expressing concerns over the company’s practices. Two Florida counties recently rejected Maverick’s bid to open schools in their areas. The Palm Beach County School District also refused to approve the company’s applications to open more schools in the district on the grounds that the company’s existing schools have not achieved their goal of improving student performance.

Every Mavericks school is geared towards students who are considered to be at risk of failing to graduate. Students are offered a hybrid teaching approach that divides their time between traditional classrooms and independent lessons delivered via computer.

March 14, 2012

12-Year-Old Sues School for Facebook Privacy Violations

A Minnesota mother has filed suit against the Minnewaska School District on behalf of her 12-year-old daughter. The suit, which has the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, is expected to have an impact that reaches far beyond the grounds of Minnewaska Area Middle School. At issue is the length schools and employers can go to in order to control private speech.

facebook%20privacy%20lock.jpgThe girl at the center of the case, known only as R.S., alleges that school officials punished her multiple times for her private Facebook activity and then staged a mock police detainment in order to coerce her into revealing her Facebook and email passwords. The suit claims that school employees used the information to read the girl’s private emails and posts.

R.S. believed she was being targeted by a school monitor, so she posted a message on her Facebook wall saying that she hated the monitor for being mean to her. Facebook does not allow public viewing of the walls of minors, so there was no way for the monitor or school officials to see the message. Someone showed a screenshot of the girl’s wall to school officials, however, and R.S. was punished and forced to apologize to the monitor.

Afterwards, R.S. posted a message expressing her anger at the “friend” who had told on her. She was suspended from school for this post. Later, the guardian of another student complained to school officials that R.S. had discussed sex in a private Facebook conversation with another child. Neither the posts nor the conversation was conducted on school grounds or using school equipment.

After the last incident, R.S. claims she was detained in a small room in the presence of a police officer and two school employees and told she had to reveal her Facebook login information and her email password. The suit alleges that R.S. sobbed with fear and humiliation as the officer and school employees read her private conversations and emails and berated her for their contents.

The suit alleges that the district violated the student’s First and Fourth Amendment rights. According to court papers, the girl’s mother was not informed of the interrogation and never gave anyone permission to look at her daughter’s private communications.

The school district contends that its actions were reasonable and legal. According to a district spokesperson, “The district is confident that once all facts come to light, the district's conduct will be found to be reasonable and appropriate.”

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March 5, 2012

Student Claims School Violated Her First Amendment Rights

A Missouri high school student has filed a lawsuit against her high school for violating her First Amendment rights. The suit, which was filed in federal court against the Dixon R-I School District, claims the student was forced to remove posters that supported a pro-life day of silence even though other students were allowed to display posters supporting other causes.

Free%20Speech%20Zone.jpgThe student attends Dixon High School and is being represented by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). The ADF accuses the school district of censorship in the case. “The case law in this is really clear. The supreme courts down to the local courts have held when a student is in school they don’t give up their First Amendment rights,” said Matt Sharp, the ADF attorney who is handling the case.

This is not the first time the ADF has defended a student who was censored for sharing written material that promoted the student's personal beliefs. In 2011, the organization prevailed in a case that concerned a student who was forbidden to give information about his church to fellow students at a Little Rock, Arkansas, school.

The school district has not issued a public statement regarding the lawsuit. According to district superintendent Dawna Burrow, the district has yet to be served with the suit. Once served, the school district must file a response within 20 days.

Official district policy forbids students from promoting any events or activities that are not sponsored by the school or that further the school's curriculum. However, the ADF alleges that school officials have been willing to look the other way when students have promoted other events and activities that were not school-related. In fact, the student at the center of the lawsuit was allowed to display posters for the same event during the prior school year.

The ADF has stated that if the school district relents and approves the display of the posters, it will consider dropping the lawsuit.

February 9, 2012

Indiana School Favors Boys Team, Suit Alleges

A lawsuit claiming that an Indiana school district violates federal laws has been reinstated. The suit charges that a school in Franklin County, Indiana, favors the boys’ basketball team over the girls’ team when it comes to scheduling games. A lower court had dismissed the suit, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit disagreed. If the district loses the case, the decision will likely have an impact on public schools across the state.

boy.girl.%20equality.jpgTwo parents with daughters on the girls’ basketball team, including a former girl’s basketball coach for the district, allege that the school gives precedence to the boys’ team when it comes to scheduling games. Boys’ games are more frequently scheduled on Fridays and Saturdays, while girls’ games often get weekday slots.

The parents believe this practice violates Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which stipulates that school programs that take federal money cannot discriminate based on sex.

Paul Neidig, the school's athletic director, did not deny the practice, focusing instead on efforts made in the last ten years to cut down on discrimination against girls’ teams. "Years ago it was not uncommon that girls never played on Fridays and Saturdays," he said.

Neidig defended the school’s practice of reserving coveted slots on the calendar for the boys’ basketball team’s games. According to Neidig, the school has other concerns besides providing equal opportunity to male and female students. In Indiana, he said, athletic programs rely on ticket sales and fundraisers for some of their funding. In defense of the school's practice, he pointed out that attendance is lower at weeknight games than at Friday games, a point also made by the plaintiffs.

According to Neidig, each school's athletic director, along with coaches, determines game schedules. Most of his school's games are on Tuesdays, Fridays or Saturdays, he said. Away games must, of course, be coordinated with the schedules of other teams. Neidig says that his school has a policy of alternating away games between the boys and girls teams.

"We're always trying to balance that schedule," said Neidig. "We don't want parents and school administrators to have to choose which home game they go to."

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February 2, 2012

Ohio Student Beaten Unconscious at School Sues District

A lawsuit has been filed in the Miami County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court against the Bethel Local School District’s Board of Education as a result of an attack on a student. The suit maintains that the assault occurred at Bethel High School. The suit, filed by a student and his mother, alleges that the claimant was viciously attacked in April of 2011 by a fellow student who hit the boy and kicked him in the head until he lost consciousness. The victim and his alleged assailant have not been named because they were both minors at the time of the incident.

Zero%20Tolerance%20for%20Bullying.jpgThe original suit accuses the school of providing inadequate supervision. It contends that no faculty or staff was in the vicinity of the attack and no one intervened to stop the assault. According to court documents, the injured boy sustained permanent, severe injuries and is expected to incur ongoing medical expenses as a result of the attack.

The plaintiffs in the case are asking for punitive damages in addition to expenses. The suit also names the parents of the alleged aggressor as parties to the lawsuit. The parents of the student who is accused of attacking the injured boy are pointing the finger at the school district, claiming that the attack is the fault of the school district.

In addition, the parents of the boy who is accused in the attack have filed a countersuit against the victim and his mother. They claim that the alleged victim was actually the aggressor in the incident, and that their own son suffered severe injuries at his hands. They also allege that another child from their family was also the victim of an ongoing pattern of abuse, including bullying and assault, at the hands of the plaintiff.

In the school district’s response to the suit, the district maintains that it acted in good faith and behaved reasonably. The board of education claims that the district had no control over the independent actions of the students involved and has asked that the suit be dismissed.

January 26, 2012

Suit Alleges Violations of California Education Code

A lawsuit recently filed against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) accuses the district of breaking California state law by failing to take student achievement into account during teacher evaluations. Filed by educational reform advocates in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of the parents of six LAUSD students, the suit also originally named the teachers’ union and LAUSD superintendent John Deasy as defendants.

LAUSD%20LOGO.jpgAlthough California’s Stull Act explicitly states that schools must consider student achievement as part of a teacher’s performance, the suit claims that the LAUSD ignored the law in favor of the terms of the district’s union contract. Instead, the district allegedly conducted only cursory evaluations that consisted of a brief, previously announced visit by a principal to observe a pre-determined lesson. The parents charge that these evaluations are ineffective and result in the failure of only one percent of the teachers who undergo them.

The lawsuit came at a critical juncture for the district, which is in the midst of negotiations for a new contract with the teachers’ union. Although a tentative agreement between the schools and the union was reached shortly after the trial date was set for June of 2012, the agreement made no mention of the evaluation process.

There is little doubt that changes are needed to California’s education system. One in three California students fail to complete high school and many colleges are compelled to offer remedial education to entering freshmen. Enforcing compliance with existing laws would seem to be a reasonable place to start.

Bill Lucia of EdVoice, which filed the suit, has said that the vast majority of California’s schools utilize evaluation procedures that violate the state’s education code. This may be at least partially due to the fact that the unions have a track record of vigorously fighting all attempts to judge the performance of teachers based on the progress of their students. If the LAUSD loses the current suit, it will have little choice but to bring its procedures for evaluating teachers into line with the law. However, California law does not specify how much emphasis a district should put on student performance when evaluating the performance of teachers, leaving observers to speculate as to what effect a victory for the plaintiffs will have.

January 19, 2012

Prayer Banner Still Hangs on Cranston West High School Wall

The prayer banner (see photo) that has graced Cranston West High School for nearly five decades still hangs on a wall of the school. Although the banner is now covered, the Cranston School Committee put off making a decision about what to do with it at a meeting following a court order to remove it. A rally that had been planned to show support for the banner never got off the ground, but local residents crowded a school committee meeting to express their points of view on the matter.

prayer%20banner.jpgPolice officers attended the meeting as a precaution as angry residents who disagree with the court’s ruling voiced their disappointment. Many residents also expressed their anger towards Jessica Ahlquist, the student who sued the school to have the banner taken down. Ahlquist herself spoke at the meeting in between Tweeted communications with fellow students who were also upset by the decision.

Ahlquist, who is an atheist, has been the target of online threats. Cranston West’s superintendent, Peter Nero, said in an interview that a police officer accompanied Ahlquist throughout the day as students returned to school on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2012, which was the first regular school day after the ruling. However, he said, Ahlquist has not been the target of any threats or violence inside the school.

In a video posted online, Ahlquist said she never expected what she saw as a simple request to have the banner removed to turn into such a firestorm.

"I'd just say, 'Guys, it's a prayer in a public school. Obviously, that doesn't belong.' And the grownups would be like, 'Yeah, obviously, it's separation of church and state. That makes sense.' And it would just come right down," Ahlquist told viewers.

The school committee is planning another meeting on Jan. 24. Residents will be welcome to express their opinions. However, the decision about whether to remove the banner or to appeal the court ruling will be made by the school committee in a private meeting.

Continue reading "Prayer Banner Still Hangs on Cranston West High School Wall" »

December 14, 2011

Hershey School Rejects HIV Positive Student

A spokesperson for the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, Pennsylvania announced that the school is the subject of a lawsuit by the family of a 13-year-old honor student who was denied admittance because he is HIV-positive. A spokesperson for the school characterized the action by the child's parents "adversarial."

Milton%20Hershey%20School%20Lawsuit.jpgAccording to the spokesperson, Connie McNamara, the school refused to admit the boy over concerns about the safety of other students. "In order to protect our children in this unique environment, we cannot accommodate the needs of students with chronic communicable diseases that pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others," said McNamara. "The reason is simple. We are serving children, and no child can be assumed to always make responsible decisions that protect the well being of others."

Federal law, as well as Pennsylvania state law, prohibits schools from refusing to enroll students because they are HIV positive. Officials at the school, which was founded by the late chocolate magnate, assert that, because their school is a boarding school, they are not bound by these rules. "...Children live in homes with 10 to 12 other students...24 hours a day, 7 days a week," said McNamara.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the school's concerns are unfounded. HIV cannot be spread through casual contact, and other household members cannot contract HIV from toilet seats, silverware, dishes or by touching surfaces an infected person has touched.

Attorneys at the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, a non-profit organization, drew parallels between the current case and the Ryan White case. White, a middle-school student in Kokomo, Indiana, was initially denied the right to attend school because of his diagnosis. In that case, the school also cited the safety of other students as the reason for their actions. White went on to become a celebrated AIDS activist before his death in 1990.

"Like Ryan White, this young man is a motivated, intelligent kid who poses no health risk to other students, but is being denied an educational opportunity because of ignorance and fear about HIV and AIDS," said Ronda B. Goldfein of the AIDS Law Project.

December 7, 2011

School District Rethinks "Cute" Suspension

A lot of feathers were ruffled by the recent story about a nine-year-old elementary-school student who was suspended from school for remarking to another student that one of their teachers was "cute." People from all over the country were outraged at what many saw as a case political correctness gone wild. Now it appears as though Emanyea Lockett's school district is equally irritated with the actions of the principal who suspended him.

principal.jpgAccording to Bonnie Reidy, who is the spokesperson for the Gaston County Schools, "We will be sending an official letter of apology to the parents. Also, the suspension will not count against the child and the child will receive additional instructional assistance to make up for the time out of the classroom."

In addition to the public apology, the district announced that the school's principal, Jerry Bostic, who was the one who made the decision to suspend the boy for sexual harassment, has resigned. According to Bostic, the resignation wasn't his idea. In an interview with the Gaston Gazette, the former principal said the district told him he had an hour to resign or face termination. In an interview with a local television station, Bostic complained about his treatment. "One mistake in 44 years, and I'm not given the benefit of the doubt. I really don't believe I was treated fairly."

Here is the full text of the apology that was issued by the Gaston County Schools: "After a thorough investigation by school officials involving the suspension of a fourth grade student at one of our elementary schools, it has been determined there was no sexual harassment. We regret this situation happened.” The superintendent has attempted to contact the family to offer an apology to the parents and student. The school system is also sending an official letter of apology to the parents and student.

"The suspension will not count against the student and additional instructional assistance will be provided to the student for the classroom time missed. If a concern is reported by parents to the district office, our procedure is to investigate it and follow up with the parents."

Mistakes are sometimes made in schools. It is good to see a school district respond so quickly and positively.

November 30, 2011

Future of School Field Trips Uncertain in California

School field trips may become a rare treat at some California schools in the wake of a pending lawsuit that has been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2010, charges that the state of California has neglected to enforce the "free school guarantee" that is mandated by the state's own constitution. The ACLU alleges that charging mandatory fees for educational field trips violates the law.

field%20trip%20buses.jpgThe suit has led California school districts to re-examine their policies on field trip fees. Typically, it has been assumed that parents will pay fees to cover the cost of school-sponsored educational field trips. Children whose parents do not pay the fees simply fall through the cracks if there are no funds provided by booster groups or other parents to cover their costs.

Children who are left behind when their classmates go on trips may or may not have the opportunity to attend their regular classes. The ACLU claims this practice essentially forces parents to pay additional fees if they want their children to have the same educational opportunities as other students in their schools.

California students are guaranteed the right to a free public education by the State's constitution. Allowable fees are specified in the California Education Code and include fees for such things as optional testing, graduation gowns and caps or tickets for dances and other entertainment activities. Any trip that takes place during school hours and takes students away from their regular classes must be free for all students.

According to Yancy Hawkins, who is the fiscal-services manager for the Palo Alto school district, "We can ask for donations, but it has to be just that." Although his district has had to make few changes, it's not so easy for some districts. "In terms of changing what we're doing, there hasn't been a huge impact, and a lot of that is because of the generosity of this community...Kids weren't being excluded in Palo Alto, whereas in a lot of other districts they were, and I think that's where the lawsuit came in," said Hawkins.

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November 8, 2011

Lawsuit Alleges: New Positions a Ruse to Hire New Counselors

The Fontana Unified School District is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the teachers union in the San Bernardino County Superior Court. The suit is demanding that the school district reinstate counselors that the district laid off. The teachers union alleges the counselors should be allowed to return to work on the basis of seniority.

School%20Counselor.jpgThe teachers union claims that the Fontana Unified School District has violated the California Education Code. According to the lawsuit, the district let 68 counselors go after the 2010-2011 school year, then created two new job titles for what was essentially the same position and attempted to hire 42 new counselors.

According to Pat Mazzulli, president of the Fontana Teachers Association, the new counselor positions are “substantially similar” to the old counseling positions. “Rather than follow procedure in the Education Code, the FUSD made reduction in force counselors reapply and interview for their jobs. FUSD attempted to hire outside the district as well," Mazzulli said. According to Mazzulli, the California Education Code requires that the laid-off counselors be given the opportunity to accept or refuse substitute slots before the jobs are offered to new applicants.

The Fontana Unified School District denies any wrongdoing and insists the new counseling positions are entirely different from the old ones. William Wu, assistant superintendent of human resources for the school district, said in an interview that "the district reviewed the comprehensive counseling program, tailored it to the needs of the district and then created new district positions to provide better and different student services…They are not the same as the comprehensive counseling program." Furthermore, said Wu, “The district is not in the business of violating peoples' rights. We are in the business of serving children, but we are not in the business of violating peoples' rights in the process.”

However, the school board has postponed plans to hire applicants for the new positions. According to Mazzulli, no trial date has been set.

Continue reading "Lawsuit Alleges: New Positions a Ruse to Hire New Counselors " »

October 6, 2011

Second-Grade Teacher Sues School District for Retaliation

A second-grade teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School in San Francisco who sued the San Francisco Unified School District in 2006 for employment discrimination and was awarded a $60,000 settlement has gone back to court, this time claiming that officials at the school are retaliating against her for the original lawsuit.

retaliation%20lawsuit.jpgMargaret Reyes filed federal court documents alleging that the school has made unfounded accusations against her and placed her under disciplinary review. Among other things, she claims she was disciplined for letting a student go outside without a jacket and “mishandling” paperwork.

Court papers describe a difficult working environment in which Reyes was denied restroom breaks and forced to teach in a flooded classroom. According to Reyes, the school’s principal, Richard Zapien, taunted the teacher and later refused to come to her assistance when a troubled student got violent and held Reyes and a classroom full of students hostage.

In her suit, Reyes claims that she is being harassed because she took the district to court after the school’s principal suggested that she should leave the district and seek work in a school associated with her religion. Her suit also alleges that Reyes has been discriminated against because of her gender and age as well as her religion.

Richard M. Rogers, attorney for Reyes, stated, “There was a budget crunch. People were getting pink slips. She’s Catholic, and (the principal) made the comment that she should get a job at a Catholic school to open a spot for someone else.”

Rogers also accused the district of not complying with the court’s order in the earlier case, although he said a confidentiality clause prevented him from being more specific.

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September 26, 2011

NY Court will Decide if Bullying is Worth Six Million Dollars

A six million dollar lawsuit was filed last week against the Saranac Lake Central School District in upstate New York. Amy and Hiram Oliveras claim that their daughter, who is of Caribbean descent and is now 12 years old, was bullied, harassed and assaulted in school as a result of her race and that the school district failed to protect her from these acts.

schoolbullying.jpgThe alleged incidents happened from 2008 to 2010. In one attack her belongings were damaged and deodorant was used to write a racial slur on the sidewalk. The school did not wash away the writing for eight days, opening the district to an onslaught of criticism.

A.J. Bosman is representing the Oliveras. Mr. Bosman is the director of the Children's Rights Initiative, which provides legal services to low income children at no cost. He states that the girl was clearly a victim of bullying based on her race and that the school district did not do their part to address the problems.

School Superintendent Gerald Goldman, one of the defendants named in the lawsuit said on Friday that he hadn't received a summons and otherwise declined to comment. He referred additional questions to the lawyer representing the school district in the case.

School officials claim they have spent the past year working to "change the culture" of the district. The school board implemented a new harassment, bullying and hazing policy. An outside group provided diversity training for administrators, school board members and teachers. Superintendent Goldman claims the district has tried to respond to what happened to the girl in all possible ways.

September 17, 2011

Student Used in School Drug Sting Awarded $1 Million Plus

A San Fernando Valley (CA) school district will pay more than $1 million to a middle school student who was used in an amateur drug sting by school officials at Porter Middle School. The Los Angeles Superior Court found in favor of the boy, known in court documents only as “Roe,“ and awarded him $1 million for his ongoing emotional distress, as well as $15,250 for tutoring.

Drug%20sting%20at%20school.jpgAccording to court documents, in 2010 the 12-year-old boy reported that another student was selling marijuana on school grounds. The court determined that after the boy reported the problem, Joyce Edelson, the Principal of the school, Armando Mejia the Assistant Vice Principal, and Laura Custodio, Dean of Students came up with the idea to conduct a television-style drug sting on their own without consulting police or the boy’s parents.

The scheme involved giving the 12-year-old cash and having him attempt buy drugs from the suspected dealer. After the “sting,” the boy began receiving death threats from other students and was forced to leave the school for his own protection.

Alexander Calfo of Yukevich Calfo & Cavanaugh, who represented the plaintiff in the case, pointed out that using a minor in a drug sting is against the law. Furthermore, the action was in violation of school policy. According to Calfo, “Pursuant to their own policies and procedures, all they had to do was pick up the phone. Call the parents. Call the police. There were other methods, other than invading or intruding into this boy’s life.”

The defense admitted administration officials broke the law but said that the officials involved felt that the situation was severe and merited the action. He also stressed that they never intended to harm the boy. The attorney defending school officials stated that the assistant principal “felt that it was so important to act then and act swiftly that he didn’t think about the potential consequences down the road. He felt that the greater concern was to act swiftly and to do something to take care of the problem.”

September 8, 2011

Teacher Fired for Pumping Breast Milk

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project have indicated their intent to take legal action on behalf of a Jefferson County teacher who was fired for exercising her right under state and federal anti-discrimination laws to express her breast milk at work.

would%20you%20be%20fired.jpgThe ACLU took the first step towards bringing suit against the Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen (RMAE) by filing a state notice of claim against Rocky Mountain and a federal complaint of discrimination on behalf of Heather Burgbacher.

Burgbacher taught at Rocky Mountain for five years and consistently received positive evaluations. When Burgbacher tried to exercise her legal right to express milk at work, Rocky Mountain refused to allow her to pump and even told her she should feed her baby formula. Breastfeeding requires the mother to express milk at regular intervals throughout the day in order to maintain an adequate supply of milk to nourish her baby. Formula is considered an inferior substitute for breast milk.

After mediation forced the school to accommodate Burgbacher's legal rights, the school made plans to terminate her contract. Burgbacher's supervisor informed her that the sole reason for the termination was her request to pump. However, Colorado's Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act recognizes the benefits of breastfeeding to health and society at large and grants mothers the unequivocal right to express milk at work and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for nursing mothers who need to pump at work.

“Colorado law explicitly states that no mother should have to choose between breastfeeding her baby and keeping her job. Yet that’s precisely the position in which RMAE placed Ms. Burgbacher,” said Rebecca T. Wallace of the ACLU.

In their legal filings, the ACLU references the Colorado statute as well as federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex or pregnancy and forbids employers from retaliating against employees who protest violations of the anti-discrimination laws.

Continue reading "Teacher Fired for Pumping Breast Milk " »

September 2, 2011

UPDATE: Federal Court Rules in Slumber Party Lawsuit

A federal court recently ruled in the infamous Indiana “slumber party lawsuit” we highlighted in 2009 (CLICK HERE). Two female students sued school officials following their respective athletic suspensions for posting sexually suggestive pictures of themselves online. Captured during a summer-break slumber party, the depictions displayed no indication of the subjects' academic or athletic affiliations.
U.S. District Chief Judge Philip P. Simon U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Indiana found in favor of the minor female plaintiffs. Remoteness of the girls' “guilty act” to their respective athletic and academic qualifications was the apparent lynchpin of the court's legal analysis.

The court's legal reasoning relied heavily upon that articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1969 landmark decision, Tinker v. Des Moines. Tinker involved a legal challenge by two students who were disciplined for wearing black armbands to school as a show of anti-Vietnam sentiment. An absence of any potential disruption within the academic arena was the main factor that clinched the case.

Judge Simon also assigned substantial significance to prior Pennsylvania precedent in the instant action. He cited the grave inherent dangers of permitting public school officials to reach beyond educational boundaries to exert undue influence in extracurricular matters.

In its final analysis, the court also noted the very vague pupil handbook verbiage that prohibits actions that “discredit” or “dishonor” the school or its students. This over breadth was found to be violative of students' Constitutional rights to free expression.

The court repeatedly deemed plaintiffs' postings as obscene absurdities. To its credit, however, it also noted that official sanctions based upon subjective judgments are precisely what First Amendment framers sought to prevent.

ACLU attorney Ken Falk is plaintiffs' legal counsel. Falk expressed personal pleasure with the precedential value of this case for filling an ever-widening legal void in today's high-tech communicative environment. He further posited that the ruling offers all public school officials a valuable lesson by delineating educators' permissible legal boundaries.

August 18, 2011

Rainbow Day Sparks Lawsuit Against California School District . . . and Appeal

The parent of a San Jose Unified School District pupil has appealed the dismissal of her school district lawsuit to a California appellate court.

Rainbow%20Day%20at%20School.jpgPlaintiff Norina Mooney got riled up when the local Lesbian and Gay Bisexual Transgender (“LGBT”) chapter sponsored a “Rainbow Day” celebration at her adolescent’s middle school. Immediately after the event, Mooney requested the insertion of several new items into the school district’s agenda. Her purported reason for making the request was to garner greater event participation by non-LGBT students affected by bullying.

Despite state legislation that mandates the inclusion of such private input into school district agendas, school district officials denied Mooney's request. The stated reason for the refusal was an alleged lack of jurisdiction over middle school decision makers in such matters. In the ensuing school district lawsuit, Mooney seeks injunctive relief to compel educational authorities to adopt her previously proposed agenda modifications.

The Public Justice Institute (“PJI”) is the plaintiff's current legal counsel in this case. PJI president Brad Dacas posited that tolerating the improper imposition of social agendas on the public by its own elected officials is bad. According to Dacas, however, societal acquiescence in the unconstitutional denial of statutory rights to individual expression is far worse.

Dacas further advanced free societies cannot countenance the systematic stifling of open debate about vital public interest concerns.

For now, the question remains open as to whether the California school district officials involved in this case indeed committed grievous legal error. An indisputable fact is that the avoidance of improper conduct or even the appearance of same is crucial for all public school officials.

Continue reading "Rainbow Day Sparks Lawsuit Against California School District . . . and Appeal" »

August 12, 2011

Valedictorian Files Lawsuit Against School District

An African American high school graduate recently sued her school district and several of its officials. Except for one “B“, Kymberly Wimberly earned all “A’s” during her entire tenure at McGehee Secondary School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. She also completed several advanced courses and earned numerous academic awards.

valedictorian.jpgDespite this exemplary record and having the highest grade point average (“GPA”) in her class, Kymberly was denied the designation of sole valedictorian. Her lawsuit alleges that racial discrimination was the underlying motivation.

Her legal complaint (available HERE) posits that school administrators favored two white students as “heir[s] apparent” to the coveted “Valedictorian” and “Salutatorian” titles.

Kymberly’s mother, Molly Bratton, claims to have overheard educators express concern that acknowledging Kymberly’s rightful place in the Class of 2011 might create a “mess.” The following day, school principal Darrell Thompson told Bratton that a white student whose GPA was lower than Kimberley’s would be “co-valedictorian.”

School Superintendent Thomas Gathen purportedly prevented Bratton from protesting the co-nomination at a subsequent school board meeting. His stated reason was Bratton’s “failure” to complete the correct grievance form. Gathen also precluded Bratton from appealing his decision until after Kymberly’s graduation.

Per court documents, school officials engaged in a pervasive pattern of racial discrimination. Nearly half of the student body is African American. Nonetheless, more than two decades have passed since a Black pupil’s nomination as class valedictorian.

Kymberly’s suit seeks injunctive relief to compel her retroactive nomination as sole valedictorian. She is also demanding punitive damages.

The outcome of this case depends largely upon whether the court finds that school officials’ denial of Kymberly’s status as sole valedictorian constituted intentional discrimination. Because it is a mental state, intent is always impossible to prove categorically. It may, however, be extrapolated from the circumstances that surround an act or event.

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August 4, 2011

Federal Appeals Court Rules Against High School Cyberbully

A federal appeals court has refused to order the reinstatement of a student suspended for cyber bullying. Kara Kowalski was a senior at Musselman High School in West Virginia when she launched her vicious attack against a classmate. Kara’s weapon of destruction was a personalized MySpace page entitled “S.A.S.H.”

cyber%20bully.jpgAt subsequent court hearings, Kara stated that S.A.S.H was an acronym for “Students Against Sluts Herpes.” She went on to allege that another student started a false rumor that the title really represented “Students Against Shay’s Herpes.”

Nonetheless, numerous youth immediately posted images of Shay on S.A.S.H. All of the intentionally altered pictures suggested that Shay had a venereal disease. Shay suffered severe harassment and ostracism as a direct and proximate cause thereof.

When Shay’s parents complained to authorities about this offensive content, school administrator deemed that S.A.S.H. was indeed a “hate website.” Official school policy prohibits cyber bullying. Accordingly, Kara received a five-day disciplinary suspension.

The ensuing litigation posited that this punishment violated Kara’s constitutional rights to due process and free speech.

The court rejected those claims, however. The sole purpose of S.A.S.H. as a forum for defamatory publication and derogatory depictions seems to have been the underlying rationale.

Thus, the Fourth Circuit jurists ruled that school officials did not usurp their legal authority by suspending Kara. Judge Paul V. Neimeyer penned the majority view. In it, he opined that school officials acted appropriately by taking Kara’s callous disregard for a fellow student very seriously.

In addition to being suspended, Kara was prohibited from crowning her successor to the “Queen of Charm” throne. She also lost a cheerleading post.

Ironically, Kara also claimed to have suffered severe depression and social isolation as collateral consequences. The court was apathetic to those assertions, however.

This is a great example of school authorities doing the right thing for the right reasons.

The last paragraph of the Court’s decision says it best: “Rather than respond constructively to the school’s efforts to bring order and provide a lesson following the incident, Kowalski has rejected those efforts and sued school authorities for damages and other relief. Regretfully, she yet fails to see that such harassment and bullying is inappropriate and hurtful and that it must be taken seriously by school administrators in order to preserve an appropriate pedagogical environment. Indeed, school administrators are becoming increasingly alarmed by the phenomenon, and the events in this case are but one example of such bullying and school administrators’ efforts to contain it. Suffice it to hold here that, where such speech has a sufficient nexus with the school, the Constitution is not written to hinder school administrators’ good faith efforts to address the problem."

The entire decision may be viewed HERE.

Continue reading "Federal Appeals Court Rules Against High School Cyberbully" »

July 8, 2011

School Authorities Have Affirmative Duty to Protect Gay Students

Recently released federal correspondence charged officials of the Tehachapi Unified School District in central California with gross negligence. The letter alleged that educators failed to properly respond to and rectify repeated harassment complaints from a 13-year-old student.

Bullying%20Stops%20Here.jpgThe relentless taunting resulted from the boy’s alleged homosexuality. Last September, the student killed himself in response to intolerable social isolation. Consequently, his mother filed a federal civil rights action against the school district.

Her litigation sparked an in-depth governmental investigation. The official conclusion was that school authorities had indeed shirked their legal duty to protect its pupil against "persistent, pervasive and often severe sex-based harassment."

A report by the US Dept. of Justice revealed that the student endured more than two years of malicious taunting, inappropriate touching, and having objects hurled at him. Conditions became so severe that he stopped donning gymnasium attire in the locker room. He feared assaults from fellow classmates.

The vice-principal once dismissed such complaints by citing the “difficult age” of students and his inability to change inherent attitudes instilled by their parents.

In another instance, the principal asked Seth to point out his harassers from school yearbook pictures. He took no further action, however, because the boy could not recite his harassers‘ names.

In partial settlement of this case, the school district agreed to retrain faculty and staff and to submit to several years of intensive monitoring of its anti-harassment remedial efforts. The school district Superintendent expressed positive anticipation about these changes.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney James Gillian represents the boy’s mother. Gilliam expressed being “ecstatic” over the official confirmation of his client’s allegations. He further posited that this case will set a precedent by sending the message to school officials throughout the entire nation that they have a positive duty to protect pupils.

June 17, 2011

Kindergartener’s Expulsion Prompts Educational and Legal Controversy

Last month, a Philadelphia state court‘s reversal of a six-year-old kindergartener’s expulsion sparked renewed controversy over school rules and school district law.

The preschooler was expelled from the First Philadelphia Charter School for Literacy for touching his teacher’s thighs. Court documents quoted the boy as saying that he only wanted to “make them feel better” after the teacher complained of leg pain.

zero%20tolerance%20at%20school.jpgA Philadelphia Common Court of Pleas recently agreed. In a May 23 ruling, Honorable Paul P. Panepinto found that the child only intended to comfort his teacher.

The heart of legal contention lies in the question of whether charter schools should have greater legal license in student discipline than other institutions. Arguing in the affirmative, charter school operators cite students’ ability to resume instruction at public schools following expulsion from charter facilities.

Critics charge that such a double standard is legally impermissible, however.

History of Disruption?

Court documents revealed three prior expulsions during the plaintiff‘s enrollment. The first occurred last December after the boy touched a female classmate’s buttocks beneath a table while attempting to retrieve mislaid crayons.

He was suspended on two subsequent occasions for allegedly tripping, shoving, or stepping on the toes of other children. According to legal pleadings, the child was a habitual disciplinary problem. One staff member ranked his disruptive behavior as “8” on a scale of 1 to 10.

Judge Panepinto limited his focus to the thigh-touching incident in ruling that the boy’s final expulsion last March was an abuse of school officials’ discretion. In so finding, the court opined that such conduct was developmentally normal.

School officials view the matter much more seriously, however. In court briefs, school district attorneys posited that touching an adult teacher’s upper thighs was inappropriate conduct in a classroom.

The current posture of the case is pending mandatory court mediation. Absent a satisfactory settlement, it will advance to the Commonwealth Court. Meanwhile, the kindergartner is enrolled in a private school where he has reportedly presented no major behavioral problems.

Broader questions of education law and/or school district law loom large in the backdrop of this litigation, as charter schools proliferate across the nation. In this writer’s view, uniformity is in the best long-term interests of our nation’s youth. Mere piecemeal accountability leaves them at the mercy of capricious school authorities.

Continue reading "Kindergartener’s Expulsion Prompts Educational and Legal Controversy " »

May 31, 2011

Appropriate Adult Behavior Is Best Antidote To Adolescent Bullying

Of late, fifteen-year-old Phoebe Prince has been an American media icon. The Massachusetts high school student recently committed suicide following a relentless campaign of malicious bullying by ruthless classmates. Her story has served to prompt parents and other concerned parties to ponder the prevention of similar future teen tragedies.

nature%20of%20bullying.jpgOverall public response has been a veritable rush on government. In response, Massachusetts legislators hurriedly enacted anti-bullying statutes. The new law designates the fourth Wednesday in each January as “No Name-Calling Day” in the Commonwealth.

Touted as the most comprehensive anti-bullying statute in the entire nation, the law goes much further than mere establishment of establishing an official day of anti-bullying observance. It also mandates annual training and mandatory harassment reporting by school personnel.

A prominent query currently on many minds is the likelihood of the law having any real long-term positive impact. Unfortunately, any affect will probably be minimal.

Local authorities made further attempts to deter future bully malfeasance by initiating criminal prosecution against Phoebe’s tormentors. Their sentences to community service with probation led to widespread outrage in many circles. A perceived failure of the criminal justice system was the primary cause of such vehement criticism.

Other commentators have proposed civil suits as the best antidote to the alarming recent rise in harmful teen taunting. Attorney Wendy Murphy publicly promoted federal civil rights litigation by Phoebe’s parents against the school district. Murphy suggested this approach as a strong economic incentive for education officials’ strict adherence to anti-bullying laws..

The sad fact is that virtually every facet of modern society is saturated with bully ented propaganda. From political candidates’ derogatory public statements to primetime television airings right beneath our own roofs, the problem is pervasive.

Sadly, Phoebe’s story is reminiscent of an ancient anecdote about a busy father, his young son, and a magazine. To keep his son sufficiently distracted while he worked, the man tears the page into dozens of pieces and instructs the boy to reassemble them. One side of the page featured a man’s face while the other displayed a globe.

Within moments, the boy returned with the reconstructed picture. When asked how he had accomplished the task so quickly, the child responded that it was easy. It seems that once the man was back together, the whole world also fell right into sync.

Likewise, the most effective anti-bullying approach starts with wholesome adult who examples. Exhibiting courtesy and respect in all interpersonal interactions is the permanent best cure. In the long run, it portends much more effectiveness than mere “Band-aid” solutions of lawsuits and legislation.

April 22, 2011

Nevada School District Sues to Cut Budgetary Costs

In response to severe imminent budgetary crises which could include cuts of more than $407 Million and elimination of up to 2500 staff positions, the Clark County School District (“CCSD”) filed suit against the local teachers’ union earlier this month. In its lawsuit, the school district petitioned the Eighth Judicial District Court to rule on a proposed increase in employee retirement contributions. Currently, school district employees participate in the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System (“PERS”). Purportedly, a 1.125 percent hike in mandatory employee contributions is slated to begin on July 1.

Education%20Budget%20Shortfall.jpgThe suit alleges that district workers must incur the increase instead of an equal pay raise. Alternatively, employees may elect to accept an offsetting salary reduction. School district officials maintain that the collective costs to its employees will total $14 million. Ultimately, they claim, the school district will sustain the loss.

In an apparent effort to clarify the value of this multimillion-dollar figure, the district equated the sum to 200 full-time school district employee slots. Litigation documents further detailed the district’s ongoing negotiations for revised employment contracts with the teachers’ union. If negotiations are successful, the new contracts would become effective with the 2011-2012 academic year. Meanwhile, state legislators are contemplating the legalities of CCSD’s proposed budget cuts.

Ostensibly, the district is seeking declaratory relief in case it is unable to reach a compromise with the teachers’ union. If granted, such relief would constitute a restraining order. The court order would ultimately become moot by the terms of a renegotiated contract or binding arbitration.

To date, the teachers’ union has not filed a formal response to the school district’s claims.

Continue reading "Nevada School District Sues to Cut Budgetary Costs" »

April 15, 2011

Woodland Hills Settles Lawsuit with Autistic Child's Family

The Woodland Hills (Pittsburgh, PA) School District has agreed to pay $25,000 per year, plus a 3% annual inflationary increase, to the family of an elementary school aged student diagnosed with autism and mental retardation. The agreement will enable the family to seek private education for their child.

April%20Autism2.jpgThe suit, on behalf of an unnamed family, alleged that the district’s plan to place the then-six-year-old child diagnosed with autism and mental retardation, in Wilkins Primary School was inconsistent with the educational requirements laid out in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act and other laws. It argued that the Pace School, a private school for emotionally disturbed and developmentally disabled children in Churchill, PA was significantly better equipped to meet the child's needs. The family's attorney stated that the family "felt very strongly ... that the private placement was what was best for their child" therefore the district’s plan would not meet their child’s needs.

The federal civil lawsuit was filed in U.S. District court last May and resolved in mediation this February. The payments, required for 15 years, will allow the family to send their child to the Pace School, despite the fact that it only partially covers the tuition expenses the family will incur.

April 7, 2011

School Districts Must Provide Records

In a ruling by the Arizona Court of Appeals handed down on March 31, 2011 the Congress School District, located in Yavapai County, has been ordered to supply records sought by four local residents.

The Congress School District had rejected the records requests by the four residents claiming that it was "vexatious," due to the number of previous requests for records by the individuals.

school%20crossing-1.jpgThe ruling by the Court of Appeals stated that the school district did not provide evidence to prove the requests unreasonable and that the records are available to the public by law. The ruling also stated that the public has a right to information regarding the district and how it conducts business. Requests for, and access to, this information does not constitute a public nuisance.

There were a total of 55 requests for records by the four residents for information during the 2008-2009 school year. There were also four complaints filed that year with the Arizona Ombudsman's Office, the agency in charge of complaint review, due to lack of response to the requests. The residents filed an additional 13 information requests during the 2009-2010 school year.

The response by the school district to the repeated requests for information was to sue in an effort to block any future records requests, stating that they are a "public nuisance, an abuse of laws regarding public records and harassment." No mention was made, however, that any of the previous requests were improper or illegitimate.

In the ruling, the judge wrote that the officials from the Congress School District did not provide proof of any request made for non-public records.

Citing the arguments in the suit by the school district as 'preemptive action,' the judge stated that it was inappropriate but that the school district was welcome to seek legal action in the future to bar any requests that are outside the bounds of public records law.

The Congress School District has also been ordered to pay the legal expenses incurred by the individuals due to the court proceedings.

April 1, 2011

Student Threatened With Lawsuit for Complaining About Grade

A student complaining about a grade is certainly not a new development but threatening to file a lawsuit against a student for disputing a grade is a different story. As hard as it is to imagine such a thing, that's exactly what happened to young Monserrat Ramirez of California. The girl contested her grade after her teacher gave the group she was in a C+.

complaint.jpgRamirez went through the proper channels, first appealing to her teacher, then to the administrators of the school. Finally after finding no suitable resolution elsewhere Ramirez turned to the Basset Unified (La Puente, CA) school board to have the matter resolved and that's when the young woman was issued a letter from the teacher's lawyer, Michael Feinberg.

In a letter sent from Feinberg's law firm, Ramirez was told that her comments and communication with the school board were classified as "actionable slander" and was advised that further comments from her could result in "costly litigation". Initially the letter had the desired impact, essentially silencing Ramirez.

"I was going to give up as soon as I saw that." Ramirez said.

This would be the end of the story in most cases, but 18 year old Ramirez isn't like most people. The honors student with a 3.5 GPA couldn't just stand by and let this go; her grades were hard earned and one teacher shouldn't be able to put a black mark on an otherwise excellent student record.

The teacher, Tom Covington, taught Ramirez's yearbook class. While the other students in her group were goofing off or failing to show up at all, Ramirez showed up faithfully and completed all work assigned to her within the time allotted. When an editor for the yearbook quit Ramirez was responsible for the work of that editor in addition to her own.

Bassett Unified Superintendent Marty Galindo confirmed that Ramirez followed proper channels when contesting her grade and said he feels Covington's actions were "unfortunate and overboard".

Tom Covington defended his actions by stating that: "My intent was to have this little girl stop dragging my name through the mud. As a teacher, what I have to go on is my reputation and false accusations can wreak havoc on a career."

The threatened lawsuit against Ramirez may be a potential suppression of First Amendment rights. Covington's lawyer declined to comment on the matter.

Continue reading "Student Threatened With Lawsuit for Complaining About Grade" »

March 21, 2011

Mom Sues Preschool for Failure to Prepare Her Child

A lawsuit has been filed in the New York courts by Manhattan mom, Nicole Imprescia, against a posh, private preschool for not doing enough to prepare her four-year-old daughter, Lucia, for an Ivy League education.

Preschool.jpgCharging $19,000 a year for tuition, the York Avenue Preschool promises to provide Upper East Side children with a custom-tailored, age-appropriate education in art, music, physical activities and language. Imprescia claims the school’s laid-back teaching style caused them to fail in delivering on their promises. She says this could have sabotaged Lucia’s opportunity to be accepted into an elite private school and thus irrevocably hindered her chance to be accepted into a top U.S. college.

Although the year-round school offers its young pupils access to teachers with master’s degrees in early childhood education, the curriculum is largely the same as any preschool classroom – learning the alphabet, singing songs and finger painting – except for the French lessons given to the four-year-old children.

Imprescia claims her daughter wasn’t properly prepared for the standardized Educational Records Bureau (ERB) entrance test used by highly-competitive private elementary schools in New York City, including Dalton, Chapin and Spence. Instead, Lucia and her peers were taught their colors and shapes.

The Imprescia family lawyer is equating the situation to theft and false advertising, saying Imprescia was duped into believing the thousands of dollars would be money well spent on a first-class education. Imprescia says her daughter was forced to mingle with two-year-olds and basically spent her days playing instead of learning. She pulled her daughter out of the school less than one month after enrolling in the fall of 2010.

Imprescia is seeking class action status for the lawsuit. The case has also sparked widespread debate in media outlets and online about the cost versus the quality of an elite education and the high expectations that are being placed on very young children to succeed.

York Avenue officials released their own statement to the media, saying these are the first charges brought against the preschool in its 30-year history and that they hope Lucia has found a school that better fits her needs.

February 22, 2011

School District Settles Retaliation Lawsuit Filed by Teacher

The lawsuit filed by former teacher Sandra Brody against the Fort Worth Independent School District has been settled. The settlement was approved in January and the district will be required to pay $41,500.The teacher claimed administrators retaliated against her after concerns were reported about the school’s handling of P.E. classes. Brody worked as a teacher during the 2008-2009 school year at Clifford Davis Elementary School. She reported that the time allotted for physical education classes were being used to prep students for state math tests.

retaliation.jpgIn the retaliation lawsuit, she claimed that students were not receiving state required physical activity. She felt an obligation to also notify parents of the activities. In Brody’s suit, she also alleged that her teaching contract was not renewed as a result of her report. Brody began her career with the district in 2006 when she worked as a teacher’s aide. In the summer of 2007, she became certified to teach. Brody said she became concerned during the 2008-2209 school year when she became aware that the students were not having recess and that physical education classes were being used to prepare for the Texas Assessment test. The Texas State law has a requirement of 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity each day. The law does not specify that the activity has to be in a formal P.E. class. According to the Texas Education Agency, the activity can be offered in a number of ways.

Brody also claimed that the central administrator, who has since retired, reinstated the physical education classes after the concerns were reported. According to Brody, when she continued to report her concerns, she started to receive threats of losing her job. During this time, she had been written up regarding concerns of her job performance. There is a stipulation in the settlement that neither party in the suit has admitted to any illegal activity. The school board will rescind Brody’s termination proposal and acknowledge her letter of resignation.

District officials disputed her claim that retaliation was an issue in the case and in the district as a whole. Clint Bond, district spokesman, has declined to comment on the specifics of the retaliation lawsuit. There are currently at least three pending lawsuits against the district where retaliation is claimed. Another suit was brought about by an employee who claims that she was terminated for making a report regarding payroll problems. The third school district lawsuit was filed by a former assistant principal, who claimed that district officials sought to fire him after he made a report regarding problems at Arlington Heights High.

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February 10, 2011

School Board Adds Prayer Disclaimer to Every Agenda

The following is the new "invocation" disclaimer added by the Polk County (Florida) School Board to all meeting agendas:

Disclaimer.jpg"Voluntary invocation may be offered before the opening of the School Board meeting by a private citizen. The views or beliefs expressed in the invocation have not been reviewed nor approved by the School Board, and the Board is not allowed, by law, to endorse the religious beliefs or views of this, or any other speaker."

The addition of the disclaimer comes after the attorney for the school board, Wes Bridges, received a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The organization threatened a lawsuit if the members of the school board continued to include prayers in its meetings. The disclaimer helps to ensure that the school board is not working to promote or to establish any type of religion.

If the school board were to face the lawsuit, it could cost the school board up to $500,000 in legal fees to fight the lawsuit and even more if the school board loses the legal fight. As a way to bridge the gap, Bridges used the aforementioned disclaimer and to allow these types of prayers to only occur prior to the start of the meeting, which officially begins at the sound of the gavel dropping.

Bridges states that it is not unconstitutional for a school board to have invocations, but this disclaimer helps ensure the school board is not stepping outside of the laws otherwise. He proposed other options for avoiding the litigation as well, but this is the remedy the school board decided upon.

The Vice Chairman of the School Board, Tim Harris, stated that he was concerned with why the school board was the target of the Freedom From Religion Foundation when state legislators and Congress open meetings with prayers as well.

February 3, 2011

Desert Sands Unified School District Sued Over Religious Bricks

In La Quinta, California, the Desert Sands Unified School District is being sued in federal court because the school will not include bricks bearing Bible verses in the sidewalk. The bricks were part of a fundraiser used to build the sidewalk. The Alliance Defense Fund is suing the school district on behalf of two people, Lou Ann Hart and Sheryl Caronna. The two claim that the school violated the First Amendment Rights of the individuals when the bricks were rejected based on religious merit.

palmdeserthigh.jpgThe attorney representing the Alliance Defense Fund believes that the government is signaling out religious viewpoints. He is quoted as saying, "Christians have the same First Amendment -protected rights as everyone else does on public school campuses and their messages are no less worthy of exposure than other individuals."

The bricks were rejected, according to the lawsuit, by the district based on constitutional "separation of church and state." The complaint also stated that neither woman received a refund. The Alliance Defense Fund wants the district to pay monetary damages to the women, and pay attorney fees, and to include the bricks in the sidewalk.

Resident of Palm Desert, Hart, purchased the bricks, which measured four by eight inches, and Caronna, from Rancho Mirage, purchased an eight by eight inch brick. The two purchased the bricks to provide a message of hope for students.

After the bricks were made, the women were notified by the school district that the bricks would not be displayed in the project. That was in August of 2010. The school district claims it is looking into the situation and believes the filing of the lawsuit was premature.

The case, Hart V. Tomack, was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Tomack is a member of the school board.

Continue reading "Desert Sands Unified School District Sued Over Religious Bricks" »

January 27, 2011

Lawsuit Alleges Montgomery College Offers Tuition Discounts to Illegals

Three residents of Montgomery County, Maryland have filed a lawsuit against Montgomery College, stating that the college should stop providing discounts and the lowest tuition rates available to illegal immigrants. The civil lawsuit is aimed at stopping the long standing policy within the school to provide in county tuition to graduates from Montgomery public schools within the previous three years. The school does not take the immigration status of these students into consideration. However, all other students who apply to the school must provide and meet immigration status.

tuitionfees.jpgOf the school's budget, $208 million of it came from county and state appropriations, which accounts for 60 percent of the budget for the 2011 year. The goal of the policy, the school claims, is to provide low cost access to more students.

In the state, students are given free K - 12 public educations no matter what their immigration status is. However, state laws prohibit these students from receiving tuition assistance for higher education. There are two lawmakers currently working to reverse this, this year. This includes State Senators Richard Madaleno and Victor Ramirez. The legislation proposed would make it possible for some undocumented students to be eligible to receive tuition assistance from public schools in the state.

McDonough, who is a Republican delegate from Baltimore County, who wants stricter immigration laws, stated about the school, "They are public officials using taxpayer month for an unlawful act." He says that the civil lawsuit brought against the school is just the first step and stated that he plans to file criminal lawsuits with the state as well as the FBI's public corruption unit. An investigation has been ongoing for the last six months with the school, including audits obtained during the report. In one report, the school provided in-county tuition for more than 11,000 credit hours annually to students who did not verify their legal status.

The lawsuit also claims that the school could have collected some $5.9 million in the last three years if it had charged out-of-state rates to those students. For a three credit course, the cost for in-county residents is $321 where as for those who are out-of-state residents, the cost is $897.

January 20, 2011

School District Pays $52,500 to Settle Student Mistreatment Claim

The Sarasota (Florida) County School District has reached a settlement over a lawsuit filed by a student alleging mistreatment. The district will pay $52,500 to settle the claim. The claim comes from a developmentally disabled student who states that she was mistreated by her teacher, Diana O'Neill, from Venice Elementary School. The teacher no longer works for the school.

Bad%20Teacher.jpgThe parents of the girl will drop the lawsuit against the district but still can file additional lawsuits against the teacher. All school board members and the district have agreed to settle the claim.

However, all is not in the clear for the school district since three other students have come forward alleging further abuse. They have sent letters of intent to sue to the district.

The current settled lawsuit states that the teacher pinched, poked, slapped and shoved the disabled student and called her a "fat ass" and a "waste of air." This occurred when the student did not respond to the teacher. The student is missing half of her brain, which was surgically removed as an infant. The student is unable to talk, see or walk. According to the lawsuit, the day the student was abused, she came home with bruises.

The student's attorney, states that the student was unable to communicate her abuse to the parents since she does not communicate. The parents state that they sent the child to school daily without any idea of the child's poor handling.

O'Neill did not comment on the settlement. The amount of the settlement was reached through mediated session.

The teacher was arrested in 2008 on charges that she abused the disabled students in her care. She was acquitted of those charges. She kept her job in the school district but does not work as a teacher, but rather works in the record's department. It is possible that she could lose her teaching certificate. A state administrative judge is scheduled to hear the case against O'Neill later this month, and will then make a recommendation about revoking her teaching certificate.

The Education Practices Commission will then vote whether to accept the judge's recommended order. If the commission revokes her teaching certificate, the district would be able to fire O'Neill since she would no longer be qualified for her $78,000/year job.

Continue reading "School District Pays $52,500 to Settle Student Mistreatment Claim" »

January 13, 2011

School District Settles Bullying Case for $300,000

The Fargo (North Dakota) School District has agreed to pay a sum of $300,000 in damages to a former student and his attorney. The school district agreed to settle the bullying case out of court to reduce costs. The former student alleges that he was bullied in the school system by other students from the 5th through the 9th grade.

say%20no%20to%20bullying.jpgThe former student is now 21. The student left the Fargo public school system, but returned and later graduated from the high school. According to his attorney, the former student is happy with the outcome and that the school will be putting new bullying programs in place.

According to the school district, the claim has been paid by the North Dakota Insurance Reserve Fund. Mediation was used to help reach the agreement, which occurred late in 2010.

As part of the agreement, the school district has agreed to improve training to teachers and other school staff on how to notice and react to bullying occurring between students. Additionally, a curriculum that includes programs designed to teach students about bullying will be implemented at all grade levels within the school district.

The school district stated that it will develop a strong anti-bullying program that is aimed at preventing bullying from occurring and how to deal with it if it does occur. The school district will combine forces with staff, parents and the community in order to formulate effective programs, along with the help of legislators.

The lawsuit originally brought against the school district claimed that the district did not respond to the complaints of the student about the bullying and that the school did not do enough to punish those doing the bullying. The former student continues to deal with the emotional effects and ongoing depression related to the bullying.

Continue reading "School District Settles Bullying Case for $300,000" »

January 6, 2011

ACLU Warns Tehachapi School District: Sexual Harasment Must End

Potential sexual harassment which may have led to a teenager’s suicide, prompted the teen’s mother, Wendy Walsh to contact the American Civil Liberties Union. The mother, along with her attorney submitted a seven page letter to the Tehachapi Unified School District. The letter requests the school district to take action to respond with a satisfactory remedy for the alleged ongoing sexual harassment.

stop_sign-200x218.jpgThe attorney has not yet filed a lawsuit against the school district but instead is hoping for a more positive outcome. The attorney filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights as well, asking the organization to investigate the school district.

The mother wants to understand why the school district did not take action when she complained about her son’s treatment throughout the years. Seth Walsh was 13 years old.
The Tehachapi Unified School District’s superintendent says that federal investigators have interviewed staff, teachers, principals and students on December 15th and 16th.

Walsh states that her son began reporting problems in the 5th grade. He later reported problems in middle school. Walsh filed reports to teachers and administers. In one instance, Seth asked for help to which a teacher responded, “That’s right, you do need help.” Later, the mother took the boy out of school. Her son was called “queer” by other students in front of his mother. At that incident, the mother found the student who made the comments and escorted the student to the office.

After enrolling in various programs, the student was brought back to the school where he was later pushed into lockers and ridiculed. The parent eventually pulled the boy out of school again, at which time he was enrolled in an Independent Study program, with “sexual orientation ridicule” as being the reason for his inability to remain in regular school.

The student continued to be abused by various other students, including one incident in which he was teased by three boys and a girl in a park. That day, he went home, showered and changed, then hung himself from a tree in the backyard.

The complaint filed by Walsh is, she states, in the hopes that better resources are made available to people in her son’s situation. Seth’s death was more than one day of problems at the park but was about years of abusive behavior about the child’s sexual orientation.

December 29, 2010

Special Needs School Settles Shock Therapy Lawsuit

In Boston, a settlement has been reached having to do with a former student who allegedly received electric shocks at the school he attended. The special needs school, agreed to pay $65,000 to settle the lawsuit. The lawsuit claimed that the shock therapy was inhumane and violated the student’s civil rights.

shock%20therapy.jpgThe school known as The Judge Rotenberg Center uses a controversial form of aversive therapy. In order to control aggressive behavior, and to prevent self injury in autistic students, the device administers a shock.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Antwone Nicholson. At the time of the filing, in 2006, he was 17 years old and was enrolled at the school for the last four years. The student’s mother agreed to settle to simply move on. The school agreed to the settlement because it was minimal and far less than what it would cost to fight the case in court. The suit originally was for millions of dollars in damages.

The school is thought to be the only one in the United States that uses the therapy. Some parents of the school believe the therapy is successful and is used only as a last resort in preventing severely autistics children from injuring themselves. The settlement allows for the school to be absolved of all claims by the family. The school also says that the parents of the student were made aware of the treatment used at the time of enrolling the son.

Nicholson acknowledges that she knew of the treatment but said she thought it would be used only in situations where the boy was a threat to himself or to others. She says that was not the case. She claims that if her son simply said no to a directive or did not pay attention, the center’s administrators would shock him.

Nicholson says her son pleaded with her to remove him from the school. He still lives at home with her but has flashbacks to the treatment, she says.

Earlier, an appellate division of the New York Supreme court dismissed a claim that a Freeport, NY school district helped place the student in the school. Another lawsuit, brought against the state itself was also dismissed.

According to the school, less than 20 percent of students experience the shock therapy and only if positive reinforcement does not control behavior. The US Justice Department has begun an investigation to determine if shock therapy is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Approximately 30 advocacy groups presented a letter to the Justice Department asking for the shocks to end.

Continue reading "Special Needs School Settles Shock Therapy Lawsuit" »

December 14, 2010

High School Coach Kicks Off Player for Pink Cleats

A player on the football team at Simpson County (Mississippi) School District has filed a lawsuit after being kicked off the football team for wearing pink cleats. The lawsuit was filed after an agreement was made previously with the team and the player. The player agreed not to pursue damages against the team if, in return, he was reinstated to the football team out of Mendenhall High School.

Pink%20cleats.jpgHowever, after that agreement was reached, the student was told he was not allowed to dress out with the team for the next game. He was expecting to join and play with the team and was crushed when he was not allowed to, his attorney stated. According to the attorney, the coach reneged on the agreement made in front of the entire hometown game. This, the attorney states, is a bad faith breach of the settlement agreement. He noted that the coach was not only illegally stopping the player but also costing the district a good amount of money in damages as a result.

The school’s attorney was not able to comment. The student was originally kicked off the team when he wore a pair of brightly colored pink shoes. The shoes were a gift from his great grandmother. The cleats were worn as a way of honoring two of his family members, both of whom were cancer survivors.

The attorneys for the student and for the district did not agree on why the boy was kicked off the team. The deputy superintendent said the student was removed from the team because he did not take orders from the coach and the assistant coaches, which included taking off the cleats. They claim the booting from the team was due to failure to listen to the coaches, not about his support for the cause.

The student and the district came to an agreement prior to the most recent game which allowed the student back on the team. This was the first time in a month he was able to play and he had planned to play in the regular cleats.

Should the current lawsuit go forward, the boy states that any proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure programs.

December 1, 2010

Parents of 8 Year Old Sue School Over Sexual Harassment

The parents of an eight year old special needs child have filed a lawsuit against the township of Voorhees’s school, in New Jersey. The parents allege that their eight year old girl was sexually harassed by a boy on the bus and at school. The suit was filed in federal court in Camden.

Rowdy%20school%20bus.jpgThe lawsuit against the school states that the school district did not protect the child from the repeated occurrences, which occurred at Signal Hill School by an eleven year old student.

According to the lawsuit, the employees at the school showed deliberate indifference to the alleged harassment. The parent’s concerns, the lawsuit states, which they voiced to the teacher, received a response from the teacher indicating that the eight year old should wear a bra.

The harassment started in the spring of 2010 when the boy encouraged the girl to expose herself on the bus. The parent’s allege that the boy continued the harassment by asking to see “private parts and touching her butt.” The mother contacted the teacher and the teacher said that the boy was “such a nice boy” and stated that the girl’s statements could be a form of attention getting.

The harassment continued into the next school year. In another incident, the boy “touched breasts while asking to see them” and continued to do so on the bus ride home that day. The girl stated that because she was pressured, she pulled down her shirt to and showed him.

The lawsuit requests that adult monitors be placed on all school buses in the township, among other things. It would also require the school district to put in place methods to investigate the complaints of sexual harassment within the district.

The lawsuit alleges that the girl’s education suffered because she was continually monitoring where the student was. In response to the claims, the school moved the student to the back of the class, even though her individual education program requires her to be near the front of the class. The girl has auditory processing disorders.

The school district was unable to comment and has not responded to the lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks damages to cover medical and legal costs as well as funding for home instruction for the girl until an alternative school can be obtained, at the district’s expense.

Continue reading "Parents of 8 Year Old Sue School Over Sexual Harassment" »

November 19, 2010

Los Angeles County Education Lawsuit Settled

A civil lawsuit brought against the Los Angeles County Office of Education was settled. The lawsuit stated that students within the district were being punished for asking for instruction and that teachers at the school in question, Camp Challenger in Lancaster, were routinely missing classes.

rowdy%20class.jpgAccording to a statement released by the education office, the teaching staff will be examined and changes made. Teachers will be retrained. In addition, as part of the lawsuit settlement, career programs and new literacy programs will be put into place. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit.

According to the ACLU, students were graduating from the school without being able to read. According to Mark Rosenbaum, who is the attorney working on behalf of the ACLU, “these kids could not fill out job applications or read basic signs.”

In the lawsuit, it is alleged that the civil rights violations occurred and deprivation of education that is legally mandated was not provided to students enrolled at the facility. As a result of the class action lawsuit, about one quarter of the teachers have been transferred or resigned. The principal and the assistant principals may face legal charges. A federal judge will need to approve the settlement.

The office of education is like to work with various professionals to improve the education of youths who attend the high school. In addition, the county’s educational program will move towards courses that include special education, instruction, literacy and other areas of specific need. Another action of the settlement forms the Challenger Reform Taskforce, which will be responsible for monitoring the reforms occurring at the school to ensure they are being taken seriously. The county will also likely pay attorney’s fees and other expenses related to the case.

Continue reading "Los Angeles County Education Lawsuit Settled" »

October 28, 2010

Student with Nose Piercing Allowed to Return to School

After a student was suspended from school for wearing a nose piercing, a federal judge ruled that the North Carolina school must allow the 14 year old to return to school. The nose piercing, the student says, is a part of her religious beliefs.

nose%20piercing.JPGThe federal judge, US District Judge Malcolm Howard stated his decision which allowed the student, Ariana Iacono to return to school. The Johnston County school system dress code states that any facial piercings are not allowed. However, there are exemptions in place for religious beliefs.

The attorney for the school district declined to comment about the federal ruling.

Another hearing is scheduled for November 3rd and the student will be able to continue classes at Clayton High School until at least that time.

The student’s attorney, Jon Sasser and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the school officials stating that the student’s constitutional rights were violated when she was suspended several times since classes started. The student and her mother state that the nose piercing is not a fashion statement but part of the student’s religious beliefs.

The Iaconos are part of a small religious group called the Church of Body Modification, consisting of 3,500 worshippers, a small clergy, a statement of beliefs, and regular religious practices. The group believes that piercings and tattoos are a religious devotion. The religion was first incorporated in July of 2008 in Pennsylvania.

The school’s dress code allows for exemptions based on “sincerely held religious beliefs” and “the principal or the designees should not attempt to determine whether the religious beliefs are valid but if they are central to religious doctrine and sincerely held.”

Since the start of school Ariana Iacono has been suspended four times missing 20 days of class. The student was told that she would have to attend the South Campus Community School, which is a facility designated for those students who have disciplinary or other problems. She would still not be allowed to wear a nose piercing.

The school, the lawsuit states, stepped over the boundaries.

October 20, 2010

Parents File Suit Against School for Bullying

The parents of a student attending District 2 in Sumter, South Carolina have filed a lawsuit stating that the child was repeatedly bullied and school officials did not take action to correct the problem, resulting in gross negligence.

bullying.jpgThe parents, Tina and Brian Christmas state that their son Joshua now 13, was bullied by another student while the boys attended both High Hills Elementary School and Hillcrest Middle School. Named in the lawsuit are the bus driver and the vice principal of Hillcrest. The lawsuit states that Joshua suffers from a condition called Benign Essential Tremor Syndrome in which his hands tremor. He is also easily frightened and has difficulty dealing with stressful situations.

The lawsuit states that his condition is one of the reasons Joshua is continually bullied. Tina Christmas is administrative assistant to 3rd Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Young, while his father Brian is a Sumter Police Department detective and fire department captain.

The lawsuit claims the boy was initially attacked in 2006 on a bus by a bully who bit, strangled, bruised, and kicked the child, which lead to him bleeding. Joshua did not fight back because he did not want to get in trouble. The boy faced suspension from the bus but continued to threaten Joshua and his mother’s life. Then, Tina Christmas contacted police who involved the state department of Juvenile Justice. The boy was forced to write an apology and Joshua was given a one year restraining order against the bully.

The boy moved out of the area but transferred back for the 2009 to 2010 school year. This caused the continuation of the bullying and the boy encouraging others to act out against Joshua.

Tina Christmas contacted to the school and spoke to the vice principal. According to the lawsuit, the child was threatened, frightened and bullied. According to the lawsuit, vice principal Richburg stated, “I would take a child home myself before putting him on the bus afraid.” The parent asked that she be contacted if he was afraid to ride the bus home.

On April 16th, the boy threatened Joshua throughout the day and stated he would beat him up on the bus. Joshua went to the principal and asked to call his mother. Joshua’s request was denied even after the student begged not to be put on the bus. He was taken to the bus by the vice principal and the bus driver was alerted to the situation. The boy punched Joshua in the face on the bus, and Joshua fought back. The bus driver called police but refused to stop the fight and told other children on the bus to “let them fight.”

Police were not told about threats against Joshua and both boys were removed, handcuffed and placed in patrol cars. School officials did not notify the parents but the Christmas’s learned of the arrest from other students.

The lawsuit alleges that Joshua was traumatized by the events and was physically ill due to the situation. The following school year, Joshua was in two classes with the bully, which continued his suffering including vomiting and headaches. The parents believe that the school is negligent in protecting their son against the bully.

Continue reading "Parents File Suit Against School for Bullying " »

October 13, 2010

UPDATE: Lower Merion School District Settles 2 Webcam Spy Lawsuits

In February and March we posted about the webcam spying lawsuits filed against the Lower Merion (PA) School District. In an effort to move on with the business of education, the school district settled the lawsuits for $610,000.

Big%20Brother%20Spy%204.jpgBlake Robbins, filed a lawsuit in February claiming that the school district used then 15, charged in an explosive civil-rights lawsuit filed in February that the district used its remote tracking technology to spy on him inside his home. Evidence uncovered in the case showed that he was photographed 400 times, sometimes as he slept.

A second student, Jalil Hassan also filed suit.

Federal prosecutors investigated whether the district broke any criminal wiretap laws, but declined to bring any charges.

The terms of the settlement require $175,000 to be placed in a trust for Robbins and $10,000 for the second student Hassan. Additionally, their lawyer will get $425,000 for his work on the case.

The district's insurance carrier, Graphic Arts Mutual Insurance Company has agreed to pay $1.2 million on behalf of the district toward legal and settlement costs.

The district is no longer using the remote tracking program on the 2300 laptops issued to students.

October 9, 2010

Student Teacher’s Comment on Gay Marriage Leads to Termination

From Portland, Oregon comes a news story in which a conversation between a student teacher and a fourth grader in his class at Sexton Mountain elementary school, lead to the teacher’s dismissal. The school, in Beaverton School District, says that they do not have any anti gay discrimination occurring in the school.

student%20%26%20teacher.jpgThe incident surrounds student teacher Seth Stambaugh. In a conversation with a fourth grade student, the student teacher was asked about his marital status by the child to which he allegedly replied that it would be illegal for him to get married because if he would, he would choose to marry a man. The student also asked if the student teacher hung out with guys, to which he answered yes. This is an accurate account according to Stambaugh’s attorney.

The student teacher is in the Master of Education program being taught through Lewis and Clark College. He has been student teaching as part of his practicum to getting his degree since the beginning of the school year. Two complaints were filed against the student teacher after the incident occurred.

In a complaint, a father of a student allegedly complained he did not believe the student teacher was dressing appropriately. The teacher was wearing pressed slacks, an oxford style shirt and a cardigan that belonged to his grandfather. That complaint was dismissed by the school itself.

On September 15th, the school district contacted Lewis and Clark to alert them that the student teacher would not be able to return to the school. The student teacher was told nothing more than that his comments were inappropriate. There is no dispute in regards to the facts in the case, but rather if this is an acceptable dismissal.

According to the school district’s spokesperson, Maureen Wheeler, the school district honors diversity and that includes sexual orientation. Although she would not speak about the case in particular, she noted that it was a fourth grader who was 9 years old that the incident revolved around. She also said that this student teacher was just one of some 250 to 350 student teachers who come into the district each year to fulfill this educational requirement.

According to Lewis and Clark, administrators did not follow the usual academic protocols in this case. Problems and “bad fits” between student teachers and districts are common, according to Lewis and Clark. Usually before a move is made, the student teacher, district and college officials discuss what occurred but that did not happen in this case. In this case, the only conversation occurred on Sept 13th, in the evening, with the principal from Sexton Mountain, followed by a series of emails and voicemails the next day. On the 15th, a voicemail stated that the student teacher was no longer allowed back.

According to Stambaugh’s attorney, the sudden change placed the student teacher in jeopardy in regards to his education and career. The student teacher was moved to another school district to complete his practicum.

September 22, 2010

UPDATE: Student Sues School After Sexting Incident

In a previous post (HERE) we told of a Scranton, PA teenage girl who was suing her school, school district, the county, prosecutors and a detective for illegally searching her cell phone. The search turned up intimate photos of the teen which had never been transmitted to anyone else, or any other cell phone.

message%20received.jpgThe school district has settled the lawsuit without admitting any wrongdoing for $33,000. There is still an active lawsuit against the Wyoming County District Attorney’s Office, which so far has not commented on the suit.

The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the district attorney could not pursue felony charges against the teenage girl for "sexting".

In a statement released by the Pennsylvania ACLU the teen said "I hope this settlement will lead school officials in the future to consider whether they have valid grounds to search students' private text messages, emails and photos."

The big question remains unanswered. How far can educators go when it comes to fulfilling their obligation to keep sexually explicit images, audio and text from reaching the eyes and ears of minors on school grounds?

Since the case didn’t make it to a federal jury, school districts around the country have a challenge in creating a standard cell phone search or seizure policy that will be acceptable to the courts and privacy groups.

The ACLU recommends that districts adopt cell phone policies that permit educators to seize devices if they disrupt the learning process, but to not search them without express consent from the student or their legal guardian.

September 13, 2010

Temecula Lawsuit Accuses Schools of Charging Illegal Fees

In a lawsuit filed in California federal court, the American Civil Liberties Union states that the students are being charged fees that are a violation of the state's constitutional guarantee to free public education. The class action lawsuit is not just from one school, but based on numerous schools throughout the state, including the Temecula Valley Unified School District.

education%20dollars.jpgThe suit alleges that paying for books, extracurricular activities, uniforms and other fees is not allowed under the state's laws.

In a recent press conference, Mark Rosenbaum who is the chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California said that some 50 districts within the region have some type of illegal fees mentioned on the school's website, but it is likely that more charge these fees. He stated, "There does not exist in California a true system of free public schools." He continued, "Instead what we have are pay to learn schools."

The spokesperson for Governor Schwarzenegger states that the administration is reviewing the lawsuit to determine if the fees violate a free education within the state. The spokesperson for the Department of Education in the state did not offer a comment about the lawsuit.

In San Diego, a school district rescinded the fees it charged students after the ACLU sent a letter to the school district claiming that the fees were illegally imposed on students.

In the Temecula district, the high school is charged with requiring students to pay fees to take an Advanced Placement exam if the student is enrolled in such a problem. These fees amount to $86 per test. The assistant superintendent states that there is an informal contract that the ACLU is referring to, which is designed to educate students on the demands of such classes, and that the agreement may need to be reworded.

The state's guidelines do allow for some fees, and principals are supposed to follow these guidelines, but the ACLU states that some of these fees may be pushing the limits.

September 6, 2010

Lawsuits Causing School Swing Sets to Disappear

A school district in West Virginia has made the decision to remove all swing sets from school playgrounds. The removal of the playgrounds from all Cabell County elementary schools is the result of a lawsuit in which the district was forced to pay a $20,000 settlement. It was the second lawsuit for the district this year over swing set injuries. The other lawsuit is still pending.

school%20swing%20set.jpgAccording to the school's safety manager, Tim Stewart, the removal of the swings comes after a child broke his arm after having jumped out of a swing, like "Superman."

The schools are removing the swings to reduce liability. Because of recent changes to national safety standards, it has become difficult for schools to defend against such liability claims.
These newer standards now require a rubber based padding to be added to the bottom of the swing and play area. The school district only had mulch, the previously accepted material, in place. The cost of investing in the padding is too high for the school district, at $7500 per swing set.

Some are concerned that parks in the area will also be pulling up the posts due to the inability to meet these harsher requirements in place.

The school district did say it plans to keep the monkey bars in place, as it can meet with the safety requirements for that play set.

Many school districts across the country are wrestling with the same issue. Even if the rubber based padding is installed there is no guarantee that injuries or lawsuits will stop. Some school districts made this tough choice years ago.

One such example is in Nevada, where the Clark County School District started removing swing sets from elementary schools in 1995.

Continue reading "Lawsuits Causing School Swing Sets to Disappear" »

August 30, 2010

Rosary Banned As Gang Related Accessory: Lawsuit Pending

At Oneida Middle School in Schenectady, New York, a student's rosary was labeled as gang related beads. The item was banned from the student's use. After complaints, the school dropped the ban, but a civil rights lawsuit filed against school officials rages on. The lawsuit continues because the school officials are accused of retaliating against the student for complaining about the ban.

rosary-beads.jpgThe lawsuit was brought on by the American Center for Law and Justice. The student involved in Raymond Hoisier. The policy change, the American Center for Law and Justice says, is a victory for religious freedom. The policy, the organization stated, was discriminatory against the student's constitutional right of free speech and the free exercise of religion.

The student wore the rosary to school to express his faith and to honor the memories of an uncle and brother who died with the rosary in hand. The lawsuit states that the student is not part of any criminal gang and does not use the rosary as a way of promoting any gang related activities or belongings. The student's lawsuit states that the student did not cause any disruption to the school environment by wearing the rosary.

The lawsuit remains in effect because, allegedly, the school dean came up to the student when the student returned to school and ordered the student to detention. According to the lawsuit, the dean said, "If you want to play the insubordinate game, we can play, too." The school is also charged with writing the child up numerous times following the period after the student filed the complaint than it had in the year prior. The lawsuit claims that the school is trying to portray the student as a troublemaker.

The judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn stated that the student was allowed to continue wearing the rosary until the issue was resolved.

The organization also claims that the policy has come into question in other instances as well, including one incident in which the school required a 12 year old girl to remove the red, white and blue beaded necklace she wore as a way to support her family members serving in Iraq. The school, at that time, banished the necklace. That case was settled out of court.

August 20, 2010

Pro Life T-Shirt Wins in Federal Lawsuit

In US District Court, a judge ruled against McSwain Union Elementary School in Merced, CA. The lawsuit against the school was filed on behalf of Tiffany Amador, by her mother Anna Amador. In 2008 an incident involving the then sixth grader resulted in the school requiring the student to take off a pro life t-shirt. The judge ruled that the school and three officials from the school violated the student's rights, including violations to the First, Fourth and the Fourteenth Amendment.

FirstAmendment.jpgThe case was scheduled to go to trial later this month, but the school settled the claim for $50,000, without admitting any wrong doing in the case.

The T-shirt in the case portrayed several pictures of an unborn fetus in the womb, with the word "Abortion" written in capital letters across the top of the shirt. The first two pictures on the shirt portrayed an unborn child through sonographic images. The final square was black, with the word "gone" under it. The school stated that the t-shirt violated the school's dress code.

According to the lawsuit, the student was required by a staff member to throw away her lunch and immediately report to the main office of the school. Then, according to the lawsuit, another school official grabbed the student by the arm and forcibly took her to another official's office. She was then ordered to remove her t-shirt and to never wear it again.

The Amadors’ attorney stated that the school had done the right thing by avoiding a trial and by allowing the judgment to be entered. According to the attorney, "Student speech at all grade levels is protected by the First Amendment. With few exemptions, such as profanity and lewdness, the Constitution prohibits school officials from picking and choosing what messages they find acceptable."

The school has since revised its dress code. The new code takes effect in the coming school year and it prohibits students from where any clothing with text or graphics, except for small school logos.

July 29, 2010

Bible Ban Lawsuit In Florida School District

Earlier this month a lawsuit was filed in a Florida court in hopes that ban on the the distribution of Bibles currently in place will be lifted. The ban does not allow Bibles to be distributed on public school campuses on Religious Freedom Day, which is January 16 each year. The President of the United States declares it yearly as such.

banned-bible.jpgThe Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit litigation and policy organization filed the suit. The group states that the district school board of Collier County allowed a group called the World Changers to distribute the Bibles each year, during off school hours on that day. The group says that the school board changed its policy and no longer believes that the Bibles offer any educational benefit to students and therefore should be banned.

The Collier County School District does allow for nonprofit organization to distribute material, however approval for the process must be obtained from the superintendent and from the Community Request Committee first. In January of 2009, World Changers were denied this approval. The group says that they include a disclaimer in the material of school endorsement or sponsorship and no one is forced to accept a Bible.

According to Superintendent Dennis Thompson, the denial of approval was based on a new legal opinion the school district received.

Liberty Counsel states in their lawsuit that the school district is in violation of the group World Changer’s rights to free speech, press and exercise of religion, as well as the equality protection guaranteed under the 1st and 14th amendment. The organization states that the school board does not understand the distinction of a private speech, which they claim is what World Changers is offering, and how private speeches should not be banned.

Continue reading "Bible Ban Lawsuit In Florida School District" »

July 19, 2010

Louisiana School Officials Sued Over Handcuffing Six Year Old

Louisiana school officials face a lawsuit for handcuffing and shackling a six year old boy. The advocates who filed the charges include the child’s parents, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana and the Southern Poverty Law Center. School officials from the Louisiana Recovery School District are accused of handcuffing the child for what the attorneys call, “minor offenses.” Included in the lawsuit are Paul Valias who is the superintendent for the school district and security officers of the Sarah T. Reed Elementary School where the child, now seven, was a student.

Handcuffs%20on%20child.jpgAccording to the director of communications for the school, Ken Jones, the employee involved in the charges was terminated and the child was never arrested. However, attorneys say that the methods of punishing students at the school crossed the line.

According to the lawsuit, an armed school security officer took a six year old to the principal’s office where the child was then handcuffed and shackled to a chair. The student was accused of shoving another child. Two days prior to the incident, which occurred in May of 2010, another officer handcuffed the child for failing to “listen and follow directions.”

The parents of the child said that the principal defended the officer’s actions in the case. The lawsuit states that the principal told the parents that it was part of the school’s policies to handcuff children who were “out of control” until they calm down. The child did not move when the principal told him to and the principal is accused of saying, “if the child failed to follow the rules in the future, he would be handcuffed.”

The parents claim in the lawsuit that the child’s life will never be the same since being handcuffed.

On a related note, HERE is an AP story about a similar lawsuit recently filed on behalf of an eight year old autistic girl who was allegedly handcuffed and arrested at her school last year. This lawsuit claims that the school district and the Sheriff's Department violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Continue reading "Louisiana School Officials Sued Over Handcuffing Six Year Old" »

July 13, 2010

Federal Trial Could Answer Question: Is Cheerleading a Sport?

In Connecticut, a federal judge will rule on whether or not cheerleading is a sport. The lawsuit filed by the Connecticut's Quinnipiac University's volleyball members and its coach, Robin Sparks, further looks at whether schools need to look for other ways to meet the gender equity requirements. The school cut the women's volleyball team last year and instead put in place a competitive cheer squad.

Cheerleaders.jpgThe judge in the case, Judge Stefan Underhill, further needs to determine if the school manipulated the size of its rosters on other teams to ensure that it meet the requirements of Title IX, a federal law established in 1972 that requires all schools to offer equal options for men and women in athletics. The judge has ruled that the lawsuit should be a class action suit for all current and future female athletes at the school. The trial will go to US District Court in Bridgeport for a decision.

The judge issued a temporary injunction last year to stop the school from disbanding the volleyball team until a decision is made. That decision was made because Underhill found that the school was over reporting the number of participant opportunities for females and underreporting those for men.

The case has drawn attention by other women's sports players and coaches. Not only will the case decide if cheerleading is a sport, but also what requirements need to be put in place for counting players. For example, the women's track athletes are counted three times as members of outdoor, indoor and cross country teams.

Upon investigation, it was determined the school's men's baseball and lacrosse teams would drop players before they had to report to the Department of Education. Then, they would reinstate the players after reports were submitted. The opposite was true for the women's softball team, where players were added prior to reporting, knowing those players would not play. The school's officials declined to comment about the lawsuit, but believe that it is in compliance with Title IX.

Students and coaches are unable to comment on the case. However, attorneys for the plaintiffs stated that the lawsuit is significant because it is the first to rule on whether competitive cheer is a sport. The cheer coach believes that cheerleading is a sport. The school says that the cheer squad offers more athletic opportunities for women and costs less. The judge has recognized that cheer does have competitive attributes, though it is not an NCAA recognized sport or emerging sport.

One of the qualifications to be in compliance with Title IX is that there must be a governing body for the sport. Quinnipiac has formed a governing body along with seven other schools called the National Competitive Stunts and Tumbling Association.

The school has said that any improper changes in rosters have stopped and that the percentage of men and women athletes is now in line with the population of the school and in compliance with Title IX.

Continue reading "Federal Trial Could Answer Question: Is Cheerleading a Sport?" »

July 9, 2010

Fort Wayne School May Stop Bible Study

According to local reports, a Fort Wayne school district may stop sending students to a religious instruction program on school property. A federal lawsuit has triggered the action by the school district. This after the school board president’s statement that it would be irresponsible for the district to defend themselves in a case where the standard has been previously set by prior court rulings.

church%20trailer.jpgIn 2008, a similar case was brought before the court against Huntington Schools, where the judge ruled against the schools allowing religious activities on the grounds. In that case, the American Civil Liberties Union was issued a preliminary injunction.

The school board president, Mr. Mark GiaQuinta stated that it was both academically irresponsible and fiscally irresponsible to defend against the case. He stated that several board members agree with this decision.

The case involves a third grade student at Haley Elementary School. The parents of that student sued the district in US District Court in Fort Wayne. The parents stated that the school sent their child to an onsite trailer for Bible studies without their consent. The America Civil Liberties Union is helping to represent the child’s parents. The ACLU states that the action is an infringement on the First Amendment rights of the parents. The lawsuit asks that the judge rule the program unconstitutional and to ban it from operations on school property.

The program offered by the Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County has been established and operational since 1944. Students take part in Bible education during the school day in mobile classrooms. In some situations, 80 percent of the students will take part in the education, including those in the third, fourth and fifth grade.

Should the school board decide to pull the program, the case could be dismissed. However, assurance that such a program will not be on school grounds is necessary for this to happen.

June 30, 2010

California Parents Sue in Federal Court Over American Flag T-Shirts

On Cinco de Mayo, students wearing T-shirts with the American flag on them were asked by the assistant principal to remove them. That controversial move made national news and is now headed to federal court. The parents of three of the students attending Live Oak High School filed federal civil rights lawsuits in US District Court in San Jose. Students say they are fighting for their First Amendment Rights.

Flag_shirt.JPGThe students and parents in the case want a judge to rule that the incident that occurred on May 5th was a violation of their First and Fourteenth amendment rights and that the school district's policy on student speech is not clear. The suit also asks for nominal damages and attorney fees to be paid by the school district. Named as defendants in the case are Morgan Hill Unified School District, the principal Nick Boden and assistant principal Miguel Rodriguez.

The incident involved Rodriguez asking the three boys to take off their t-shirts with the American flag on them or to wear them inside out on Cinco de Mayo. He believed wearing them on the holiday was incendiary. The boys thought this was disrespectful and called their parents. The boys are all part Latino. The case quickly hit news media around the country.

The Superintendent of the school district made a statement the next day that the school district does not prohibit or punish students from wearing clothing that is patriotic nor that students should be disciplined for wearing it.

While the actions of the assistant principal seemed wrong, the school does not have a policy that is in violation of the rights of students. First Amendment Coalition in San Rafael executive director Peter Scheer stated that the federal lawsuit may not be valid since the students do not have a "case or controversy" in policy. The school district claims it made a mistake. This means the controversy is now in the past and may not be able to be a part of a federal lawsuit.

June 16, 2010

Strip Search at School Leads to Lawsuit

A lawsuit was filed on behalf of three girls who were subjected to a strip search. The strip search was conducted at Atlantic High School in Atlantic, Iowa. The lawsuit names the school district and two school officials who were part of the strip search, allegedly. The incident occurred on August 21, 2009.

strip%20search3.jpgThe three students, Matthew Jacobsen, Lisa Ferguson and Lee Lank were accused, along with two other students, of stealing $100 from a student's purse in the girl's locker room. The lawsuit states that the then assistant principal and athletic director, Paul Croghan ordered the guidance counselor Heather Turpin to strip search a total of five female students. Croghan waited in the adjacent room while the counselor made the girls remove their clothing, one at a time, to various degrees. No money was discovered on them at that time.

After the event occurred, Croghan was placed on administrative leave and in November of 2009, he resigned his position. Turpin is still employed with the school district.

According to one of the girls' attorneys, Edward Noethe, the attorneys had tried to make several attempts with the school district to settle the case out of court, to no avail. He also believes that the circumstances will make it difficult for his client to live in the small community. He did not provide specifics on the types of steps he took to resolve the matter out of court, nor the amount of money the plaintiffs were seeking.

The lawsuit states that the search of the girls "constituted an unreasonable search" under the 14th Amendment. Further, it states that this type of code is part of the Atlantic Community School District's code, which the two officials were following when they performed the search. The lawsuit states that the search was a violation of the US Constitution.

Also, the petition filed in court states that the Constitution of Iowa also includes a provision that does not allow for such unreasonable searches to be conducted and therefore the school was in violation. The Iowa Student Searches Act was violated by the school and further the student's privacy was invaded during the search.

June 8, 2010

Student Sues School After Sexting Incident

In Scranton, PA, a teenage student is suing the principal of Tunkhannock Area high school, the school district, the county, prosecutors and a detective in the case. The student's phone was searched in a sexting case, which has recently been ruled on by a Federal Appeals Court.

sexting4.jpgMore information on that decision may be found HERE. In a nutshell, the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the district attorney may not pursue felony charges against a teenage girl for "sexting".

According to the lawsuit, the teen, who is now 19 years of age, states that the principal illegally searched her phone during the incident, which occurred in January of 2009. Through the search, the principal found nude photos the student had taken of herself. The principal then took the phone and gave it to prosecutors. In the lawsuit, the student states that the photos were never meant to be shared, but were for herself and perhaps her long term boyfriend.

However, due to the nature of the photos, the school's principal, Gregory Ellsworth turned the phone over to the then district attorney of Wyoming County, George Skumanick Jr. After reviewing the images, Skumanick threatened, the lawsuit states, for the student to take a class on sexual violence or to face charges of child pornography, which would be felony charges.

Within the lawsuit documents the plaintiff states, "I was absolutely horrified and humiliated to learn that school officials, men in the DA's office and police had seen naked pictures of me." The student's name is not being released and in court documents she is named only as N.N.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is representing her in court and through the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages against numerous individuals who were part of the case. The lawsuit also seeks immediate destruction of all remaining images.

Continue reading "Student Sues School After Sexting Incident" »

May 17, 2010

Student Suspended Over Sexting Sues School

In Bedford County, Virginia, a Liberty High School senior has filed a lawsuit against school officials claiming that his rights were violated when the school district suspended him for sexting, the process of sending explicit material or words through text messaging.

sexting.jpgThe student, 18 year old Aaron Merkey, was suspended in March through the end of the school year. According to the school district, he sent a pornographic image to a female student through his cell phone. The lawsuit the student has filed claims that the school district’s punishment was too harsh and that his rights of due process were violated because of the disciplinary actions taken. Eight school board members, the superintendent and the principal are named as defendants in the case.

Merkey’s lawyer has filed a motion for an order to allow the student to return to school, through a preliminary injunction. In addition, he is suing for $100,000 in punitive damages against Liberty High School Principal Mary Brandon and $50,000 in compensatory damages.

Merkey was scheduled to graduate in early June and because of the lawsuit, the student is suffering from “embarrassment, humiliation, emotional anguish and public ridicule” from the suspension, according to the lawsuit. He also is unable to participate in sports activities and prom.

Neither the spokesman for the school or the school's attorney would comment.

However, within the lawsuit, the details of what happened are presented. On February 22nd, the school received a photo from a cell phone showing a woman’s buttocks with a caption under it reading “Have a nice day, A------.” The student forwarded the picture to another student, a female, who complained about it to the school. Merkey was then sent to the principal’s office and there admitted to sending the picture to the female student. Later, the message circulated throughout the school.

On February 24, the principal informed Merkey’s mother that the student was guilty of sending pornography through his cell phone and sexting. At that time, the student was suspended for ten days with a recommendation for suspension for the rest of the school year. According to the lawsuit, the principal told the parents that the suspension was harsh because Merkey sent the message to a female but had it been to just males, “boys would be boys” would be considered.

On March 8th, the superintendent ruled that the suspension should hold for the remainder of the school year. She also ruled that a four week review period would be used to determine if he could return to school after April 2nd. An appeal by the parents did not dissuade the school board from the decision. The school board also ruled that the student would be suspended through the end of the school year without the review that the superintendent had allowed.

The lawsuit says that the student was never made aware of his right to appeal the decision on his own, since he is 18. Further, it states that school district’s harsher punishment was driven by the principal of the school and her recommendation was based on discriminatory standards between the sexes. Additionally the lawsuit contends that Merkey, an honors student and varsity soccer player, was given a harsher punishment than one recently given to a student who brought a handgun to school.

Continue reading "Student Suspended Over Sexting Sues School" »

May 4, 2010

Indiana School District in Battle Over Commencement Prayer

Free speech is the topic of discussion in a Greenwood, Indiana high school where the central Indiana school district is trying to allow a graduation prayer that the senior class voted to be allowed to be said. The problem is that the valedictorian of the school has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the prayer and the vote for it are unconstitutional.

FreeSpeechZone.jpgThe school district says that if the court blocks the prayer, it could be seen as a violation of free speech. The request from the school district is brought on by the lawsuit filed by class valedictorian Eric Workman. He, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the lawsuit on Monday. He claims that the prayer is unconstitutional because it is a practice of majority rule.

The case looks to the courts to determine where the fine line is for the expression of religious values in schools. The ACLU states the organization’s reasoning behind overturning the earlier blocking of the prayer goes against Supreme Court precedent in similar cases.

The organization plans to allow for the students to have student led prayer unless a judge orders them not to do so. However, a ruling is scheduled to be made on April 30th. The school says that students voted to allow student led prayer during the graduation in September at an assembly. Students did not have to attend the assembly, nor did they have to vote. The practice of allowing prayer in the school setting changes year to year but in most cases, at least one student is allowed to lead a prayer during the opening remarks, though the prayer is said to be nonsectarian.

Also notable is that the school requires that all who speak during the graduation ceremony submit their speeches in advance for approval and that some do use religious themes within those speeches. The school does not forbid them from doing so.

The school district maintains that allowing student led prayer is not a violation as students are not compelled to participate in it. The school says that anyone not praying will be expected to remain quiet and respectful as is the practice when anyone speaks. The ACLU on the other hand, says that students who are still being subjected to the prayer and will feel compelled to participate, which would make it uncomfortable for Workman and others.

April 13, 2010

ACLU Sues Over Truancy Court Practices

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island is suing Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah claiming that the practices of the truancy court program violate the constitutional rights of the public school children and their parents.

truancy%20graphic.jpgThe administrators of the program, the class action lawsuit contends, have threatened to arrest students or have them placed in custody if they fail to attend school. The lawsuit says that the administrators of the court engaged in a “pattern and practice of intimidation designed to bully plaintiffs.” The bullying is said to lead to a waiving of the constitutional rights of those involved.

The plaintiffs in the case are nine teenagers who are identified through the lawsuit by pseudonyms and their parents or guardians. The students have special education needs, chronic medical conditions or family caretaking obligations. The lawsuit says that these special circumstances resulted in the student’s missing school, being tardy or being unable to maintain schoolwork requirements in class. It also says these conditions also lead to the students to be unable to behave in school.

These abuses are alleged to have occurred in five school districts in the state, including Providence, North Providence, Coventry, Cumberland and Woonsocket. More than 700 students attend schools in this area in the past two years.

Of those filing the lawsuit is a student from a middle school who suffers from sickle cell anemia and who has an education plan that specifically says the student should not be punished for missing school. In this case, the mother was ordered to appear in Family Court because she failed to appear in the truancy court because she was hospitalized. The mother appeared in the court but without the child who was home ill. The court, under Judge Jeremiah, issued an arrest warrant for the child then told the mother it would vacate the arrest warrant if the child was brought in to school by noon that day. The mother took the child to school and two hours later, he complained of chest pains and had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance.

Some plaintiffs were under the age of 12 when they were labeled as being wayward or truant students. One mother was ordered to leave her night job early to ensure that her child made it to school by 7 am. The woman lost pay because of this decision and eventually lost her job, though it is not known if the change in schedules played a role in this. Another mother was ordered by the school to bring an ill child to school or he would be arrested.

In another instance, a child with Tourette’s syndrome and ADHD who struggled to attend school and often had behavior problems in class was told by the magistrate that he “had no interest whatsoever” in the child’s behavior or health concerns, but only that the student failed to come to school and fell behind in studies.

The Truancy Court program was created by Judge Jeremiah in 1999 and it was designed to help those students who are labeled as at risk to stay in school. These courts operate in school offices and school libraries and are part of the Family Court process. Attorneys are appointed as court magistrates to administer such hearings. These types of courts are present in 150 schools throughout the state and have no written transcripts of what occurs in each of the hearings. That is a violation of due process rights to the plaintiffs, the class action lawsuit claims.

The court requires parents to sign documentation that “waive their rights” to legal representation in a Family Court situation. Weekly truancy court hearings may be required if the magistrate issues them.

Continue reading "ACLU Sues Over Truancy Court Practices" »

April 8, 2010

Judge Rules Cancellation of Prom Violated Gay Student’s Rights

A federal judge ruled late last month that the school board from Itawamba County, Mississippi violated a lesbian student’s rights when it canceled the prom because the student challenged a ban at the prom of same sex couples. However, the federal judge did not order the district to reinstate the prom.

prom%20gay%203.jpgJudge Glen Davidson from US District Court did not reinstate the prom because a private prom that some parents are planning will provide the student with the same experience. The late date of the April 2nd prom made it difficult for the judge to require its reinstatement saying it would be too much of an inconvenience for all involved.

The case began when Constance McMillen requested to bring her girlfriend who is a sophomore at the same school, to the dance and she wanted to wear a tuxedo to the event. McMillen, 18, contacted the American Civil Liberties union to sue the school district to allow the same sex couple access to the prom.

Davidson stated a trial would be set for a later date but did not set a date for it. The parents of students at the school are hosting a private prom on the same day the school prom was to take place. All junior and senior students are able to attend, though there was not specific information about whether or not gay students would be allowed to attend. Another prom is being sponsored by the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, which is an advocacy group for same sex couples.

The court case furthers the First Amendment rights of same sex couples within the school setting. Kristy Bennett, who is the legal director for the ACL, is preparing the case for trial and plans to ask the judge to list the board’s actions as unconstitutional. They are hoping to be awarded damages plus court costs.

The school board says it canceled the prom because they did not believe the prom could be successful at protecting the safety of students. The school is in a rural northern Mississippi community and has some 715 students in the high school.

March 31, 2010

UPDATE: Gay Student Resolves Lawsuit Against NY School District

Earlier this week Jacob, an openly gay teenager (identified in court documents as “J.L.”) settled his lawsuit against the Mohawk Central School District in upstate New York. The lawsuit was filed last summer claiming the school district did nothing to stop the bullying against Jacob which included throwing him down a flight of stairs.

gay%20students.jpgUnder the terms of the settlement filed in federal court, the district agrees to implement changes including additional staff training, to protect students from harassment. The district is also required to report its progress to the American Civil Liberties Union and federal justice officials.

The settlement also calls for the district to pay $50,000 to Jacob's family and to reimburse them for counseling services. The district did not admit to any wrongdoing under the settlement.

Mohawk Central School District superintendent Joyce Caputo said in a prepared statement that district staff would never knowingly discriminate or tolerate bullying and remain committed to fostering a culture of tolerance and respect. "We recognize there is always room to learn and improve - and we intend to do just that," she said.

Additional information on Jacob’s lawsuit may be found in our previous blog posts by clicking HERE and HERE.

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March 19, 2010

UPDATE: Parents Oppose Webcam Lawsuit Against School District

Last month we wrote a post about a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania alleging that school laptop computer cameras were being remotely activated while in students’ homes.

Big%20Brother%20Spy%204.jpgThe most recent update in the case is that numerous parents in the school districts named in the lawsuit have filed documents in federal court opposing the lawsuit and asking to intervene.

Parents objecting to the lawsuit state that they are angry about the unauthorized use of webcams in students’ homes, but are more concerned about the financial impact of a class action lawsuit. Approximately 500 parents have signed a petition opposing the lawsuit which is seeking class action status.

One parent, Larry Silver, stated "We see no benefit to the school district or to the students if a large damage award is gained by the plaintiffs. We want a positive resolution to this matter. We want them (school districts) to get back to their educational mission."

Our original post is available HERE.

An extremely detailed (lengthy) account of events leading to the lawsuit is available on Philly.com.

Continue reading "UPDATE: Parents Oppose Webcam Lawsuit Against School District" »

March 9, 2010

California Race Based College Admissions Law Challenged

A class action lawsuit filed last month in federal court (San Francisco) states that the law that stops the University of California from using race as a factor when it comes to admissions of students does not meet the requirements of those who are Latinos, blacks or Native Americans. These groups, the lawsuit claims are underrepresented in the school and are unable to seek redress through the school’s governing board.

college%20admission%20game.jpgThe pro affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) brought the lawsuit against the school against Proposition 209. That ballot measure was approved in 1996. The allow prohibits anyone from giving preferences to individuals based on race or gender in any type of employment, education or contracting position.

This law has been challenged before, and the California Supreme Court has held it strong. However, the group believes that the new class action lawsuit is ideally suited for the current times stating that the United States Supreme Court has recently provided two rulings that uphold some school desegregation programs. The lead counsel for the group, Shanta Driver, states that since the law was put into place, the number of Latino and black high school graduation rates and United of California rates have dropped.

According to the complaint, The University's Board of Regents has been unable to set admission policies that include ethnicity and race, as well as gender as factors. The complaint states that this positions parents and students at a disadvantage.

President of the school, Mark Yudof has criticized the law in the past and the university’s legal team is looking into the lawsuit, but would not provide a comment about it.

The lawsuit states that Latino, Native Americans and blacks comprise about 25 percent of the freshmen that are enrolled in UC’s nine undergraduate campuses this year. This number is higher than in 1996. However, these minorities comprise a much larger percentage of the public high school graduates from 1996, from 39 percent in 1996 to 48 percent this year. This shows that the minority students are still sharply underrepresented in the school.

In 1997, a three-judge panel upheld the measure. The measure was originally passed by 56 percent of California voters. California is not the only state with these laws, though. Washington, Michigan and Nebraska currently have similar laws. In the state of Texas and in Florida, the legislatures have since banned similar laws that banned the use of race in school admissions within those states.

Continue reading "California Race Based College Admissions Law Challenged" »

February 22, 2010

Students Claim Laptop Cameras Spy on Families

According to a claim filed against Lower Merion (suburb of Philadelphia, PA) School District in federal court, the school district used school provided laptop webcams to spy on students in their homes, leaving the families to be potentially caught in compromising positions. The webcams were activated without the students’ or parents’ knowledge.

Big%20Brother%20Spy%204.jpgAccording to plaintiffs Michael and Holly Robbins, the laptop webcams could have captured students and other members of the family in embarrassing situations, including undressing. After learning of the webcam activations, students such as Tom Halperin, 15, started placing masking tape over the top of the webcam.

Should the allegations be proven, the charges could amount to illegal electronic wiretapping, said Witold J. Walzak, who works for American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, though the union is not involved in the lawsuit. According to Walzak, who is legal director, the school is unable to enter a home electronically, just as police are not able to do so. The lawsuit seeks class action status.

The school spokesman, Doug Young states that the school is committed to the student’s privacy and could not state if the school had the ability to activate the webcams remotely. The school provided each of its 2300 students with the laptops. The city is affluent and prides itself with the technology initiatives it has taken in recent years.

The Robbins family learned of the activation of the webcams after the assistant principal at Harriton High School told the son that school officials believed he engaged in inappropriate behavior at home, though the lawsuit did not specifically state what that behavior was. There is evidence in the school’s use as a photograph taken from the webcam was made available to the student as evidence of his behavior at home. The assistant principal, Lindy Matsko confirmed to the father that the school did have the ability to activate the cameras remotely, alleges the lawsuit.

District officials confirmed that they remotely activated webcams to locate more than 40 missing laptops without notifying students or parents. Lawyers have repeatedly requested all the photographs and screenshots the district obtained.

There is precedence in similar cases, though nothing exactly the same. In 2001, the United States Supreme Court ruled that police could not permeate a home with infrared lights to determine if there were heat lamps in place to grow marijuana. Technology is unable to cross the line of a person’s home, as it violates the individual’s privacy.

Continue reading "Students Claim Laptop Cameras Spy on Families" »

February 18, 2010

Student Complains About Teacher on Facebook… Federal Judge Rules “Free Speech”

In a ruling out of Pembroke Pines, Florida, a student who posted a message on her Facebook page complaining about her teacher was allowed to do so, as she was exercising her freedom of speech. Federal Magistrate Judge Barry Garber ruled that the student’s First Amendment rights allowed the student to post negative comments about her teacher.

Freedom%20of%20Speech%202.jpg"Evans' speech falls under the wide umbrella of protected speech," Garber wrote. "It was an opinion of a student about a teacher, that was published off-campus, did not cause any disruption on-campus, and was not lewd, vulgar, threatening, or advocating illegal or dangerous behavior."

The student, Katherine Evans, has filed a lawsuit against the principal of the school who suspended her. However, most important in the case is that the ruling by the judge sets new precedent in such cases in which the Internet and freedom of speech have yet to be defined. Around the country, courts are still trying to work out how social networking websites such as Facebook and free speech limitations interact with each other.

The Florida ACLU filed the lawsuit on the behalf of Evans. The ACLU states that it hoped that this case would do just what it has; set precedent in free speech laws for the Internet and other forms of communication.

Evans posted a message on the Facebook page staying that the teacher was “the worst teacher I’ve ever met.” However, when other students saw the message, they did not react favorably. Rather, other teachers and students defended the teacher. Evans later removed the message from the page. The principal learned of the message, then suspended Evans from the student’s Advanced Placement classes, and instead placed the student in less prestigious classes. Principal Peter Bayer also suspended the student for three days.

In 2008, Evans filed a lawsuit against the principal in the case in the hopes of having the suspension ruled unconstitutional and to have it removed from her record. As an honor student, she did not want her record tarnished. However, the principal tried to get the case dismissed and asked for immunity in the case.

The ruling by Magistrate Judge Barry Garber declined the motion to toss out the case and said that the principal may be forced to pay damages and attorney's fees if found guilty of violating the student’s rights.

Of particular concern was the fact that it was two months after Evans removed the Facebook message about the teacher that the principal decided to punish the student. The lawsuit is not yet settled and will head back to court.

In a related note, The US Supreme Court previously ruled to uphold a California Law which gives students even more Freedom of Expression rights. You may read our blog post about that case by clicking HERE.

February 9, 2010

High School Suicide Victim's Parents Sue School

In Dalton, Georgia, the parents of a junior who was enrolled in Murray County High School are suing the school system claiming that the school's inability to protect the child from bullying lead to the child committing suicide. The child committed suicide on Oct 17, 2009. They have filed the suit in federal court this week.

aspergerssyndrome.jpgAlso named in the lawsuit is the principal of the school, Gina Linder, whom the parents believe did not do enough to protect Tyler Long, who died after what his parents call a "particularly painful week of bullying at the high school." Long had Asperger's syndrome, which is a type of social anxiety disorder within the area of autism. The parents believe that the school's inability to protect the child was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Vocational Rehabilitation Act.

According to Stan Hawkins, who represents the school district, the case has no merit. In a statement, he states that the school system is not responsible for the child taking his life. Hawkins is one of several attorneys working on behalf of the school system.

A statement released from the parent's law firm, W. Winston Briggs Law Firm states, in part that the school's administrators and employees "exhibited deliberate indifference" towards protecting the child. The statement says that the school and principal knew of the child's disability and did not do anything to protect the child from the bullying. The law firm also states that the principal knew of the bullying. The parents filed the suit in an effort to hold someone accountable for their child's death and to ensure it does not happen to someone else.

Although the case has been filed in federal court, there is likely to be a significant discovery period prior to the case going to trial. The school system has 20 days to respond to the allegations. The lawsuit is seeking punitive damages, including payment for court costs and attorney fees.

Continue reading "High School Suicide Victim's Parents Sue School" »

February 3, 2010

San Francisco District Shake Up of School Assignments Starts

The San Francisco school system is in for major changes in the way that students are placed in elementary and middle schools. School officials are now planning to send students to those schools closer to their homes, rather than basing the choice of school on socioeconomic class or home language, something it has used for years.

school_bus%20double.jpgThe Board of Education of the San Francisco Unified School District met to discuss possible options. Staff presented a number of options including those that would use academic performances and the student's home location to determine where the student went to school. Board recommendations are still being submitted and a final vote is scheduled for March 3 on all the options available.

Options include:

Parent Selection
One of the options presented is to allow parents to select the school that the child attends, up until the school is full. At that time, all names of remaining students would be placed in a lottery system to determine which school the child will attend. However, the difference here is that the lottery would also take into consideration academic performance of the student to get an aggregate of low to high performing students in each school. In addition, such a lottery system would also factor in the location of the student's home.

Closest to Home
Another option is to simply send the children to the school that is closest to their home. Parents could still make a choice in which school to send their child, but they would be allowed to choose other schools outside of their closest school only if there was availability at that school. This makes the school assignment far more predictable.

Racial Diversity
The goal of the school board, however, is to create more racial diversity within their schools. Neither of the thus far proposed options offers any type of benefit to racial diversity. The school officials are hoping to find another solution that will give them more ability to reduce the number of racially isolated schools in the community.

The Parent Advisory Council and Parents for Public Schools both came together to talk about the school assignment system. These groups will not support any system that takes the parent’s right to choose a school. The group believes that if the school district ensured that all schools offered the same benefits that people would not care as much about their child's assignments.

A history of the San Francisco Unified School District's school assignment system may be found by clicking on the following link:

Continue reading "San Francisco District Shake Up of School Assignments Starts" »

January 25, 2010

U.S. Justice Department Joins Gay Teen's Lawsuit

The United States Justice Department has intervened in the civil case between a former student and his school. The school, Gregory B Jarvis Junior Senior High School, part of the Mohawk Central School District, is accused of failing to stop students and teachers from bullying a 14 year old, openly gay student named Jacob. The claims are that the bullying centered around the child's sexual orientation. See previous post HERE.

Department-Of-Justice-Seal.jpgThe student was often the subject of verbal and physical harassment, the lawsuit states, because he was openly gay. In 2009, the student began to dye his hair and wear eye makeup, which intensified the bullying to the point of being pushed down the stairs. The parents of the student claim that the school did nothing to stop the bullying.

However, the fact that the Justice Department is involved in the case signals that there may be a broader interpretation of the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination, which in this case is being applied to the gay male. The New York Civil Liberties Union attorney states that this involvement shows a major shift under the Obama Administration.

The basis for joining the lawsuit, the government says, is Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case is being heard in US District Court in the Northern District of New York. The teen's attorney states that the case is a fight for basic human rights afforded under the US Constitution. It commends the Justice Department for its involvement in the case.

The lawsuit seeks undisclosed monetary damages. With the joining of the Justice Department, this helps provide district wide relief for all district students in the future. The assistant attorney general in Washington authorized the involvement of the Justice Department by stating that it was a matter of general public importance.

The student is no longer in the Mohawk district but attends school in a neighboring district. The school district claims it is close to a settlement with the student, but further comments were not available. The Justice Department has interviewed numerous Mohawk school officials including Superintendent Joyce Caputo.

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December 31, 2009

Teachers Union Sues Los Angeles Unified School District

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is being sued by the union that represents teachers within that school system. The lawsuit, filed on December 28, 2009 claims that the school district failed to comply with state requirements before converting a school to a charter campus.

lausd_logo.jpgAccording to teachers, the California Education Code requires the approval of a majority of permanent teachers before schools can be turned into charter schools. In a news conference held at Garfield High School, the teachers claimed that schools like Garfield and Esteban Torres High School fall into this category.

The lawsuit specifically wants the LAUSD to comply with the Education Code, and hopes a court order will force this to happen.

The plaintiffs in the case are UTLA, and LAUSD teachers from Garfield High School, 28th Street Elementary School, Foshay Learning Center and Pio Pico Span School.

While Esteban Torres High School (charter) should relieve some of the overcrowding from the nearby (non charter) Garfield High School, LAUSD’s position is that a vote of the teachers was not required since Esteban Torres High School is a brand new school, and not a conversion of an existing school.

The two high schools, Garfield and Torres are part of the 36 new and existing schools in the Public School Choice Resolution passed by the Board of Education for the 2010 and 2011 school year. This plan allows for operations of the school to be put out to bid by third parties. The goal of the program is to help provide options for the operation of schools considered low performing campuses. Monica Garcia, who is the president of the LAUSD Board of Education, says that no schools will automatically be converted to charters as a result of the program.

This lawsuit is expected to be just the first in a series that will be filed by the UTLA in opposition to the LAUSD's plans to reform. It is also important to note that charter schools are not required to hire union teachers.

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December 14, 2009

Can UC Hastings College of the Law Refuse Christian Student Group Based On Group's Beliefs?

University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco refuses to recognize, and thereby help fund, a Christian group of students because they exclude non-Christians, lesbians and gays. The U. S. Supreme Court will determine if that is legal.

UC%20Hastings.jpgThe U.S. Supreme Court, which chooses not to hear most submitted cases, has decided to hear this one as it will likely affect public universities around the country. The battle is not a new one. Conservative Christian groups believe these limitations violate their constitutional rights. They are being forced, they say, to tolerate views that violate their religious beliefs.

Christian Legal Society filed a lawsuit against the school in October of 2004. This group limits those who may join the society based on one clear statement. The student is unable to join if he or she "advocates or unrepentantly engages in sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman." The group's members must sign documentation stating they are committed evangelical Protestant or Catholics.

The school enforced its policy on barring discrimination based on race, national origin, sexual orientation or religion and refused the society. The group then took the matter to federal courts. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White then ruled that the school was justified in its refusal and said the school could require that organizations "accept all comers as members." This was later upheld in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, the group appealed to the Supreme Court. Their opinion is that the school is forcing the society to abandon their identity or shut down the society altogether.

The answers to these concerns will not come soon. The case is likely to be heard in March of 2010 and a ruling may come down by June.

The argument that the society is making is that if all members had to be accepted, this would restrict the progress of the group since valuable time would be repeatedly spent discussing the fundamentals of members’ various religious beliefs. The school, however, believes the issue is whether or not universities and other public schools should subsidize discriminatory groups.

Other cases like this have been heard. In 2007, a lawsuit by Christian Legal Society against Southern Illinois University was settled in which the school said it would recognize the group. More so, the Boy Scouts of American was upheld in its decision to exclude gays and atheists from its membership roles, as a private organization's right to free association. However, the California Supreme Court upheld another incident with the Boy Scouts in 2006 in which Berkeley denied a rent subsidy to the Sea Scouts, a Boy Scout Subsidiary.

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December 7, 2009

Teacher Found Not Guilty of Having Sex With Student... Sues Prosecutor

A teacher from Dayton found not guilty of charges of having sex with a 16-year-old student is now suing the prosecutor who brought the charges. The teacher, Nicole Howell, and her attorney, Eric Deters, filed the claim in U.S. District Court against Rob Sanders, Kenton Commonwealth's attorney. Sanders released a statement saying that the lawsuit was baseless and without merit.

not_guilty.jpgSanders commented that he was simply another high profile person to be sued by Deters, a reference to the Deters suits against the New England Patriots and Chad Ochocinco. In addition, he commented on Deters radio career saying Deters was "a publicity seeking radio personality with a law license."

Under law, a prosecutor cannot be sued as they have immunity. However, Deters claims that the actions prior to the charges being filed are not included in that immunity. Although Sanders says that a judge determined there was probable cause to arrest Howell, Deters argues that "when a prosecutor violated the public trust, those destroyed in the wake of the abuse of power deserve their remedy."

In the state of Kentucky, only a judge can issue an arrest warrant. Kenton Circuit Judge Gregory Bartlett determined there was probable cause and sent the case on to the grand jury, where 12 members found that there was sufficient evidence to send the case on further, to the jury.

It took juries only 70 minutes to find Howell not guilty of first degree sexual abuse. Howell says she is suing the attorney because she doesn't want someone else to face the same level of wrongful prosecution. She claims her reputation and her teaching career are over due to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that Howell's previous attorney, Patrick Moeves, was told by Sanders that he did not care about the privately administered polygraph test that Howell passed. He wanted her arrested. Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Kastner made statements to Moeves that she did not want any part of the case, however had to act as Sanders requested. Moreover, it claims that Sanders knew numerous facts that would dispute the minor’s claims. These facts include the polygraph test passage, the minor being unable to identify a tattoo on Howell's back, rumors about the incident at school, and that the minor denied the rumors first before going forward.

Sanders, however, says that the minor did describe the layout of Howells apartment and could describe details of that apartment.

Interestingly, Howell's case was the first prosecuted under a more-stringent state law that makes it a felony for a person in authority to have even consensual sexual relations with someone under 18. In all other instances in Kentucky, the age of consent is considered to be 16.

November 16, 2009

School Dress Codes: Can Boys Wear Skirts?

With the ever-changing rules on being equal, questions are arising questioning whether it is appropriate for boys to wear girls clothing. Most schools have dress codes, such as girls having a proper length skirt. However, what if a boy was wearing the skirt, if it was the proper length, could he?

woman%20in%20tux.jpgCross-dressing teens are testing the boundaries around the country. For example, in Houston, a senior was sent home because his hair violated the length rules, which stated that the hair could be no longer than the bottom of a regular shirt collar. In Cobb County, Georgia, a school sent a boy home because he wore makeup, wigs and skinny jeans. Another case occurred in August in Mississippi, in which a senior’s photo was banned from the yearbook because she was wearing a tuxedo.

This is not the story everywhere, though. For example, in a Tucson high school, a freshmen girl who identifies as a male was nominated as the homecoming prince. A gay male student in Los Angeles was crowned prom queen.

Schools and the public are changing viewpoints on these types of scenarios. In many cases, the adults become the police of the dress code, and follow cultural trends. In some cases, younger generations are simply more willing to accept such changes.

Schools regularly ban things that may be gang or sex related, or promotes drug use. However, when schools try to put in place codes that limit expression of sexual orientation of gender variance, the schools are forced to consider antidiscrimination policies.

Schools will eventually need to take these matters head on with more than 4000 gay and straight alliance clubs in high schools around the country. Even elementary schools are seeing these topics come up. In some high schools, educators are stating that schools should not be the public stage for working out private identity issues. Rather, high schools are supposed to be places for academic and social training. Administrators often rely on the dress code to help keep structure in the day. Cross dressing students cause disruptions, which is counterproductive to the instructional day.

In other schools, such as those in Pima County, Arizona where anti discrimination policies have been put in place, it is not uncommon to see boys wearing makeup and girl clothing, nor is it uncommon to see girls wearing big t-shirts and basketball shorts.

At the same time, educators have to take into consideration the student’s overall safety. If a child comes to school wearing clothes of another gender, and that child is harassed, it is up to the educators to help protect the student. That is not always easy. Even using the bathroom as a transgender student can be incredibly worrisome. Defining this fine line is something that schools across the country will need to do.

November 9, 2009

ACLU Files Lawsuit Over Slumber Party Photos

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana has filed a lawsuit on behalf of two students who were suspended from athletic activities after their principal found sexually suggestive photos from a slumber party. In the lawsuit, the ACLU claims that Smith Green Community School Corporation and the Churubusco High School Principal, Mr. Austin Couch violated the students' rights by suspending them for out of school activities. The photos were posted to the student's MySpace pages.

pajama_party.jpgAccording to the lawsuit documentation, the pictures were taken during a slumber party that occurred during the summer months. The students took photos of themselves kissing and licking a novelty lollipop and pictures of themselves wearing lingerie with dollar bills stuck within the clothing. There was no identification with the photos suggesting that the students attended the high school. The lawsuit states that the students were being humorous and that the actions were "irrelevant" to school functions.

After someone accessed, copied and supplied the photos to the principal, the principal suspended the students from all extracurricular activities for the school year. After parents spoke to the principal, the principal agreed to reduce their suspensions if the students attended several counseling sessions and apologized to the athletic board.

Although the school and principal stated they are unable to comment, they did release a statement stating that the pictures "caused a disruption within our athletic teams at the beginning of this year's sessions." The school states the students did not meet extracurricular expectations.

While the parents appealed the ruling, the students attended the counseling sessions so they could participate in fall activities. They also apologized for their behavior in front of the all male athletic board. The ACLU states that this was humiliating and embarrassing.

The ACLU states that this is only one case, out of many similar cases playing out across the country. The organization claims that private moments like these should stay there and out of school administrator's hands.

The school uses a code of conduct that states that the principal "may exclude any student athlete from representing Churubusco High School if his/her conduct in or out of school reflects discredit upon Churubusco High School or the IHSAA or creates a disruptive influence on the discipline, good order, moral or educational environment at Churubusco High School."

The ACLU is hoping to classify the case as a class action suit, since many parents could be part of it. The lawsuit asks for the district to no longer be allowed to punish students for such behaviors and asks that the incident be expunged from the two student's records.

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October 26, 2009

Mother Claims "Waterboarding Like Torture" of Autistic Child

A mother out of Montana's North middle School in Great Falls claims that two teacher's aides severely abused the special needs children in her care. Five families have come forward to make the claims, with one mother describing the abuse of her autistic child as being "waterboarding like torture."

autism-ribbon2-1.jpgThe teacher's aides, Kristina Marie Kallies and Julie Parish have resigned and charged with assault on a minor and endangering the welfare of children. Kallies has not been located by police and Parish has appeared in court and was released on bond. The teachers resigned after the allegations were made, although both teacher's aides claim they are false allegations.

The children involved were special education students in grades seven and eight. The mother, Tiffonie Schilling said that the aide allegedly held the child's head under a water faucet when he dozed off in class. The boy was 14 at the time. She says, "He was having waterboarding like torture done to him on a frequent basis." Another claim is that the teacher made her son, Garrett, "eat his own vomit." The child is not vocal and could not defend himself.

Ms. Schilling is not alone in her allegations. Other parents complained of including one female child being hit in the head with a pan and a male child that was locked in a closet.

A full investigation and independent probe is likely to occur by the state attorney general, although the school has conducted a full investigation and are working with police.

October 23, 2009

Lawsuits May Keep Hawaii School In Session Despite Furlough Days

In Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, there are nine families fighting to keep school open for special education and other needs even though the state plans to close them for the day. Two lawsuits are currently pending on behalf of these students in an effort to keep public schools open even though the state had plans to furlough teachers on 17 Fridays over the next few months.

Hawaii%20School.jpgThe parents filing the lawsuits want to keep their children in school and around their classmates during these furlough days and hope to have their case heard by Judge David Ezra in the U.S. District Court. They are hoping to get a temporary injunction in place. This lawsuit states that the state has "violated the procedural safeguards" in place through the federal law that protect and prohibit unilateral modifications for any type of special education and related services.

Another lawsuit, filed by attorney Eric A. Seitz is also scheduled to be heard and is on behalf of regular, special education and charter school students in the state. The lawsuits state that Hawaii is breaking the state's obligation to provide 180 days of education, five days per week to Hawaii students. The class action lawsuit, on behalf of all students in the state, states that the furloughs disproportionately affect some racial groups and certain classes specifically.

Although the state's Department of Education claims that they have yet to see the lawsuit, Attorney General Mark Bennett believes the lawsuits are without merit. The state Board of Education has welcomed the lawsuits because their goal is to restore educational days to the students. Through the publicity from such an action, the school board hopes that this will force the governor and the Legislature to find the necessary funding.

The new contract signed by the state Department of Education and the Hawaii State Teachers Association requires there to be 17 furlough days in the current school year and the coming school year. The amount of money these days would save has yet to be noted, however the goal is the cost savings to be put towards the $127 million cut that the department is facing after the state's budget shortfall.

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October 19, 2009

Teacher Accused of Intentionally Sickening Autistic Boy

An Indianapolis teacher is accused of giving a child a peanut filled candy bar. The child's mother claims the teacher was trying to make her son sick so that he could not go on a field trip with the class. The boy is eight years old and is autistic. He is mostly nonverbal and experiences swelling by just touching peanuts.

AutismGarden2.jpgThe mother, Anita Young, has filed a lawsuit against the teacher, claiming that the special education teacher, Trinda Barocas, told an aide that the boy was likely to misbehave on the field trip and said that, "maybe he could be sick enough not to attend and we won't have to deal with it" the lawsuit states. The mother claims that the teacher knew how severe the child's allergy was. She says the child was frustrated and angry, and would fight with her about going to school, during the time of alleged abuse. The child is now in a different school and the mother claims the child is doing much better and is happy to be at school.

Officials from the school contacted the mother after aides reported that the teacher has mistreated the boy and another boy. The school is Mary Bryan Elementary School in Indianapolis.

The Department of Education and Marion County prosecutors are investigating the case. Barocas no longer works for the schools and her lawyer did not provide any feedback to the Associated Press regarding the case. The teacher told investigators that the allegations are false and that she did not try to prevent the boy from going on the field trip.

In the lawsuit, there are claims that the teacher kept the boy in a small cubicle, meant to be used for short periods. Specifically, the lawsuit states that the teacher treated the boy as a "caged animal." The teacher is also accused of pinching the boy, standing on his foot and grabbing him by the arm to drag him. The mother wants criminal charges filed.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and says that the teacher and school officials should have known of the abuse and that they failed in their obligation to protect the child. The school district claims that they filed a report with Child Protection Services as soon as they learned of the allegations and that the teacher was on administrative leave with pay three days later. She had told the school a month earlier that she would resign at the end of the school year, for reasons unrelated to the allegations. She was employed with the district since August 2008.

The Indiana Department of Child Services reviewed the complaints and found that the teacher did not want the boy to attend the field trip. The boy did attend and "did many things that he was not allowed to do." The teacher compared the child to an "18 month old" several times.

In addition to these allegations, the teacher is also accused of hitting a nine-year-old girl with Down syndrome on the lips. The teacher claims she tapped the child's lips with two fingers as a physical prompt, not to abuse the child. Another allegation stems back to 2007 when Barocas was working in Franklin Community Schools. A mother claims she saw the teacher force feed her child, slap her and restrain her improperly. The teacher stated, "I did not, will not and would not hurt a child in my care."

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October 14, 2009

Supreme Court Says No To Confederate Flag T-shirt Lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case, Barr V. LaFon, without comment. The lawsuit was brought on by a group of high school students in Tennessee who lost a battle with their school administrators who would not allow them to wear t-shirts to school that displayed the Confederate flag. The students' attorney tried to push the case further, though the Supreme Court declined the case.

Confederate%20t%20shirt.jpgIn 2005, the school put in place a policy that banned images of the Confederate Flag at the school, William Blount High School, located in Maryville. The ban was put in place after heightened racial tension occurred at the school, after an altercation between an African American and a white student occurred. The school had racist graffiti appearing on walls and even one incident in which a noose was drawn next to the Confederate flag.

From August 2005 through March of 2006, the school had 23 incidents of dress code violation in which the Confederate flag was displayed. The students claim that the policy infringes on their rights to express their Southern heritage. The students who filed the lawsuit are Derek Barr, Chris White and Roger Craig White.

The federal judge who first heard the case agreed with the school administration. The administration claims they were simply trying to prevent disruption to the educational process by issuing the policy, especially in light of the racial tension within the school. Alvin Hord, the Director of Blount County Schools, states he did not ban the flag as a racist symbol.

With the U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear the case, this leaves in place the lower court's August 2008 ruling that upholds the school's policy. The appeals court states that the school officials could reasonably forecast that the image of the flag could "substantially and materially disrupt the school environment."

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September 11, 2009

Desoto Schools In Trouble With The ACLU

On September 1, 2009, the ACLU filed suit against the Desoto County, Mississippi school district. The ACLU believes that the student had his civil rights violated while he was at school. The reason for this is because of a simple device that many students in high school and junior high school now carry…a cell phone.

1131636_no_cells.jpgThe student, Richard, had his phone confiscated while he was at school. The punishment for using the phone while in school carries the penalty of having your parents come to get the phone and having to pay a fine for its return. The problem was that the school district office personnel went too far and started to go through the phone. While going through the phone and checking all of the intimate details that were on the phone the staff stumbled upon something that they felt posed a threat.

The item that the personnel came across was a picture of Richard holding a BB gun and posing with it in his bathroom. The staff felt as though it had bad implications and that they had the need to turn the phone over to the police. The local police force then came to the conclusion that the picture on the phone indicated gang involvement by the honor student. The problem was that neither the police, nor the staff of the school had the right to go through the phone or anything that was on it.

This is what got the ACLU involved. Because not only did the student receive a three day suspension because of the personal picture on his camera, but he ended up being removed from school for the remainder of the year.

The lawsuit is claiming that the student has rights even when in school and has been filed against the principal, football coach, police and the city as well. The hope of this case is to aid in the preservation of the rights of the students to allow for the privacy and the chance of the students to not feel as though they are in a prison environment while they are there.

September 4, 2009

Cross Burned Student Settles Lawsuit With School District

A school district is trying to move past an incident in which a teacher is accused of burning an image of a cross into the arm of an eighth grade student by settling the lawsuit his family filed. The case, out of Mount Vernon, Ohio, was settled by $121,000 settlement that the family agreed to. The child has not been identified and is identified only as James Doe.

Mt%20Vernon%20MS.jpgIn the agreement with the Mount Vernon school board, the family will be awarded $5,500 and the attorneys for the family would be awarded the rest, some $115,500. The settlement award, which was approved by the school board on Wednesday, August 26th, 2009, prevents the lawsuit from going to trial, which it was scheduled to do in May.

Another lawsuit is still pending against the same teacher, a man named John Freshwater. After an internal investigation was done on Mr. Freshwater, the school district voted to have him removed. The investigation found that he had preached his Christian beliefs to the students and that he had in fact used a high frequency generator to burn the student. The cross burned into the boy lasted for several weeks. Freshwater has in return filed his own lawsuit against the Mount Vernon school district. He claims that the firing was a violation of his free speech rights and his civil rights.

The lawsuit has been highly controversial in the area, and because of this, the family is currently moving out of the Mount Vernon school district, into a new district.

The entire incident has left the school district battling for funds. The ongoing hearing has lasted more than a year and has cost $300,000.

At a board meeting, after Mr. Freshwater was fired, he made a statement saying he never branded or burned any student. More than a dozen teachers have testified on behalf of Freshwater saying they never heard any complaints from his students. Two science teachers also testified saying that the same scientific device was used on students to demonstrate electrical current. Mr. Freshwater's case is still pending.

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September 3, 2009

New York School District To Protect Gay Student

A 14-year-old gay student who is attending the Gregory B. Jarvis Junior, Senior High School in Herkimer, New York, has worked out an agreement with the school to ensure that administrators provide him with protection. The student has filed a lawsuit against the school district and the administrators for failing to provide him with adequate protection in the past. This is according to the New York Civil Liberties Union.

NewYork%20school.jpgThe lawsuit alleges that the student has been relentlessly abused through verbal and physical abuse, which reached even higher levels when another student brought a knife to school and made a death threat to the student during the final quarter of the school year.

A federal judge is requiring the Mohawk Central School District, to provide emergency relief to the student's need for safety within the school district. The lawsuit is still ongoing, and this measure to provide emergency relief does not in any way stop the pending suit. The lawsuit is seeking punitive damages to be paid by the school district as well as changes to the schools anti harassment policies.

According to the school district, many of the demanded safety changes requested by the student and federal judge were already being provided the following year and were being done so because they were warranted.

The specific safety measures being put in place are not being fully disclosed. There were exceptions to some school policies such as allowing the student to keep his cell phone on him to call home if there was a reason to feel unsafe. There was also a safe room established for the student to use if he felt threatened. The student claims that at least ten times he was forbidden from texting his father and two times from using the safe room when he felt threatened, last year.

The lawsuit charges that the school district failed to provide adequate measures for the student's needs, and that the school district failed to provide proper investigation of the harassment, and failed to discipline students or inform parents of their rights to fight complaints.

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August 31, 2009

Mother Says Teacher Slapped Autistic Boy

A cell phone video depicts the scene of an eleven-year-old autistic boy being struck by a teacher. The child’s mother has filed a lawsuit against the Pittsburgh Public Schools because of the slap, and other allegations of assault on the boy.

autism-ribbon2.jpgThe teacher, Lori Davis, was fired from her job by the school district because of the incident at Conroy School, located in Manchester. The video, posted on YouTube.com, is mentioned in the lawsuit. The lawsuit states that the teacher hit the child on the side of the head and then said, “Stop moving your chair back. Move it! And you stay back there! I’ve had it with you!”

One of the claims in the lawsuit is the school’s alleged poor background checking that allowed the teacher to be placed in the school.

The incident was not the first time that the boy was assaulted, according to a teacher’s aide named Andre Burrell. Burrell personally witnessed the teacher both verbally and physically abuse the child on multiple occasions before the March 14th video release in 2008. In addition, the child was also assaulted by a bus aide, who the school district also fired.

The teacher was fired in June of 2008, a full three months after the incident. The state also revoked the teacher’s teaching certificate after the incident was reported to them.

Experts in special education state that this is really the exception to the rule and that most special education teachers are in fact very good with students. Still, this incident could cause parents to step back and wonder what is happening with their own children both in the classroom and on the bus.

August 28, 2009

Special Monitor Appointed For Milwaukee Public School Special Education Lawsuit

A federal judge appointed the monitor who will oversee the Milwaukee Public Schools process of locating and compensating students who were denied special education services between 2000 and 2005. The process requires locating thousands of students, potentially. Elise T. Baach was appointed as independent monitor of the class action lawsuit.

Special%20Education-1.jpgIn addition to the appointment, the judge, U.S. Magistrate Judge Aaron Goodstein, also provided documents on when the search for these individuals would be conducted. The schools must track down any student who missed being identified as eligible to receive special education services between that timeframe. Both current and former students would be sought.

The search and compensation is required after a court found that the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, a federal law, was violated. That lawsuit, Jamie S. Vs. Milwaukee Public Schools was ruled on in the same court district.

Not only do the schools need to locate these students but they must also determine what is fair compensatory services to provide to those whose rights were violated. Notices must be posted starting September 1st, 2009 in all public schools in the district and must remain there until Jan 4th, 2010. Anyone who could have had their rights violated is encouraged to sign the class action lawsuit to receive the required compensatory requirements. Students who were suspended during for more than ten days in that period must also be identified, and the schools must determine which students could have qualified.

The original lawsuit claims that the school did not make required payments to allow the special education students to attend private schools for the services that the public schools could not provide. The school district has appealed the ruling.

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August 21, 2009

Banning of Autistic Child’s Service Aid Dog Leads to Lawsuit Against School District

A lawsuit has been filed by the parents of a 5 year old autistic boy against the Columbia (Illinois) School District for forbidding their son’s service dog from accompanying the boy to classes. A Monroe County judge is expected to rule this week on whether the dog is allowed to attend class with the autistic child. The Monroe County Circuit Court Judge, Dennis Doyle, promised he would make a decision before the first day of class, August 24, 2009.

corbin-service-dog-pics.jpgFive year old Carter Kalbfleisch was only 18 months old when diagnosed with Autism. Carter experiences acute outbursts, often eats inappropriate things like grass and rocks, and runs away from his parents and teachers.

Doctors at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center recommended a specially trained service dog for Carter. The dog and training have cost the family about $10,000.

(Photo of Carter & Corbin courtesy of STLTODAY.COM)

Carter's parents have noticed many positive changes since working with Corbin, a one year old Bouvier. Carter bonded instantly with the dog and now has minimal outbursts while in public. The boy’s parents have even noticed Carter is interacting with people.

School officials did not provide a reason for banning Corbin, but rumors indicated there were concerns of other students with allergies and that there may be students who fear dogs. Carter’s parents acknowledged they would have argued the decision within the school, but a decision would have taken nine months.

Children and adults with disabilities often use service dogs like Corbin and such dogs are becoming increasingly popular with people with Autism. Studies show children and adults who suffer from autism relax and open up more easily when a service dog is near. People with autism are known to have severe emotional and sensory overload, which makes it harder for them to deal with everyday surroundings and social interactions.

United States federal law protects the rights of the disabled to use service dogs. Illinois law permits the use and presence of a service dog in school, which is the law the Kalbfeisches’ are depending on. The disability laws have plenty of gray area. For example, small companies can forbid service animals if they are too disruptive, and school environments are also subject to such interpretation.

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August 14, 2009

Why Is A School District Suing A Gifted Student’s Mother?

In the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a school district is suing a mother. The Bethlehem Area School District has filed suit against Diana Zhou. The school district alleges that the woman "deliberately abused special education laws" in an effort to encourage the school to send her child to a private school. The school states that the child was a "gifted" student.

gifted%20student.jpgThe lawsuit is rare and was filed under a very specialized portion of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (I.D.E.A.). This federal law allows for school districts to try and recoup costs lost when legal actions had an "improper purpose." The school district is able to try and collect the costs of attorney fees from lawyers and from parents who push these improper claims. In this particular case, the school district has spent more than $100,000 on legal fees on the claims made by the woman.

The lawsuit stems around a series of incidents in which Ms. Zhou requested meetings to develop plans to be used to educate her two children. Each time, she refused the services that the school district offered to her. More than 20 hearings were held over a period of eight years. The hearings were designed to determine if the two children were getting appropriate services. In each of the hearings, the district won.

Under federal law, the school must provide specialized educational resources for children who are gifted, which both of Ms. Zhou's children tested as. The federal laws also provide that parents have the right to special hearings if they cannot agree on what the best plan for the child is. The lawsuit further states that the conflict worsened in the 2008 to 2009 school year. During that time, the lawsuit alleges Ms. Zhou told a mediator that she did not want to come to an agreement with the district regarding one of the child's education plans.

August 13, 2009

Grad Student Sues School Because She Can't Find A Job

A New York college is being sued because one of its graduate degree students has been unable to find a job. The student, Trina Thompson, states that the school, Monroe College, did not help her with job placement which ultimately has lead to her inability to find a job. She is seeking $70,000 to cover the costs of her tuition from the school and another $2000 as compensation for her stress in the job search.

jobless3.jpgThis is just one example of what is happening around the country where jobs are scarce in many fields. Some college career centers no longer call themselves "job placement" centers or services, but rather offer more training on obtaining a job. Career counseling and linking students with potential employers is as far as they will go.

Is this what students expect when they go to a college in the hopes of finding a job? According to Johns Hopkins University's career office director, Mr. Mark Presnell, students do not expect a guaranteed job found for them by the school. He is quoted by the Baltimore Sun as saying, "I think our students understand that we're here to guide them through the different kinds of career choices they have. What we're here to do is to educate and empower students to build a foundation for the development of their careers."

Other schools state something similar, that their job is not so much to find the job for the student, but to give them an education and then train the student how to market themselves and their skills to employers.

Continue reading "Grad Student Sues School Because She Can't Find A Job" »

August 13, 2009

High School Cheerleader Sues Former Coach Over Facebook Privacy

In Jackson, Mississippi, a former high school cheerleader has filed a lawsuit against her former coach as well as the school district in a fight over Facebook. The lawsuit is to the tune of $100 million, which Mandi Jackson and her family filed based on the coach reading the student's personal emails.

facebook2.jpgMiss Jackson states that the coach got into her Facebook account and read personal messages from her to other students, some of which contained profanity. Because of reading the messages, the coach, Tommie Hill suspended Jackson from cheering. The student was not allowed to cheer at football games or pep rallies.

The student believes she had her personal privacy violated. Her mother, Missy Jackson states that the coach tried to take over her role. She claims it is up to her to police her child's Facebook account and handle disciplinary actions herself. The mother also states that she tried to work with the school for two years to resolve the situation to no avail.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court. Courtesy of WAPT it may be viewed HERE.

Mandi Jackson dreads going back to school as a junior this year because she says that the other girls on the cheerleading squad no longer socialize with her. Although she was once friends with many of them, they no longer talk to her after the incident.

The school, on the other hand, states that all cheerleaders were warned that the coaches would be monitoring their activity online on social networking websites. The school officials have also filed a motion requesting that the case be dismissed.

August 5, 2009

Appeals Court Rules English is the Only Language for California School Achievement Tests

School achievement tests, required under the country's No Child Left Behind Act, do not have to be provided in any language other than English, a state appeals court ruled. In Coachella Valley, California, where many of the student's are considered English language learners, this has severely limited the school's performance.

testing%20students.jpgCoachella Valley Unified and other school districts alleging that students should be provided with achievement tests in other languages filed a lawsuit. The district is currently under state sanctions and an academic trustee for poor performance on these tests. The attorneys representing the school district state that the school is being treated unjustly since teachers are performing well.

The case appealed a ruling in 2007 by the San Francisco City and County Superior Court. In the case, nine school districts and bilingual education groups came together to sue the state of California over the English only tests. The lawsuit states that the state was failing to meet federal laws, which stipulate the English learners be tested in a method that is considered a "valid and reliable manner."

The school districts claim that even if the child understands the concept, they may be unable to demonstrate the answer since they cannot understand the question being posed to them.

The court's ruling (available HERE) was based on several factors including the court's unwillingness to not second guess the California State Board of Education. In addition, a state proposition that requires the majority of teaching to be done in English also was a factor. The ruling in the case was unanimous. The court stated that it would be confusing to teach in English and then to test in another language.

Federal law states only that reasonable accommodations are necessary to be made to accommodate students. The school districts have yet to determine if they will further pursue the case. They said that they will determine whether or not to move forward once the new administration in Washington D.C. determined how it would proceed with the No Child Left Behind Act.

Continue reading "Appeals Court Rules English is the Only Language for California School Achievement Tests" »

July 8, 2009

School District Caught Between Teacher and Parent

The Clark County School District in Las Vegas, is now facing a lawsuit in which they are charged with failing to protect a parent from a teacher, one of the school district's employees.

Bilbray%20E.S.%20LV.jpgThe teacher in question, Ken McFate, has been found to have an extensive history of harassing women and stalking. The claim filed against the school district claims that the school district knew of the problems with McFate but did nothing about it.

In a court of law, attorney Dan O'Brien, Clark County School District Assistant General Counsel, made the statement, "This is a case about a parent who decided to have an affair with a teacher and then it didn't go well." According to Las Vegas Now, he continued with, "She now wants the district to give dating advice to married parents." The statement was seen as surprising.

The judge in the case, Judge Kathleen Delaney, stated that the comment was disturbing and then denied the school board's motion to have the case dismissed.

What Actually Happened?

The lawsuit stems from an incident involving McFate and Andreana Leonard, who was a classroom volunteer at Bilbray Elementary School. During her time working there, she developed a relationship with the teacher. When a fall out between the two occurred, Leonard states she was forced to get a restraining order to keep McFate away from her. In doing so, she learned she was not the first person to do so.

According to records, there have been several people to file restraining orders against McFate, and many of the occurrences happened at the school. Leonard's attorney, Richard Segerbloom made a statement stating that what is truly disturbing is that the school knew about the charges and problems, allegedly, and did nothing about it, nor does the school have a policy on how to deal with such incidents.

Leonard is seeking monetary damages and the requirement of policies to be put in place to protect individuals in circumstances like this. McFate retired in 2008.

June 29, 2009

Mother Fights For Son's First Amendment Rights

A mother may find herself in front of the U.S. Supreme court, fighting for free speech and the separation of church and state. The mother, Donna Kay Busch, must make a decision about the case by August 31st.

church%20and%20state.jpgThe woman has filed a lawsuit against the Marple Newton School District and its officials. The case stems back to 2005 when her child was in Kindergarten. At the time, the children in the class were enjoying an activity called "All About Me Week." Part of the assignment was to have a parent read from the child's favorite book to the class. Busch's son, Wesley, selected the Bible as his favorite book. When Busch went to read from it to the class, she was asked to not do so by the principal, citing the need for separation of church and state.

The case has been ruled on twice. In U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, the court ruled in favor of the school district. In June of 2009, an appeals court upheld the original court's ruling. They called the classroom a nonpublic setting that, in turn, merited unique consideration of the free speech considerations.

In the ruling, Chief Judge Anthony Scirica stated it was necessary to "create the structured environment in which the school imparts basic social, behavioral and academic lessons." In particular, the statement pointed out, with children this young, the speech could be interpreted as promotion of religion.

Busch, on the other hand, believes that by taking away her child's freedom of speech, the school is in violation of the laws of freedom of speech. She will need to make her decision whether or not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and further her pursuit of what she call's Wesley's fight.

May 30, 2009

Vallejo City Unified School District Agrees to Pay $25,000 to Harassed Lesbian Student

In addition to revamping school district anti-discrimination policies, Vallejo City USD has agreed to pay student Rochelle Hamilton $25,000. The agreement was made in response to Ms. Hamilton’s complaints, prior to any lawsuit being filed.

Vallejo%20USD.jpgMs. Hamilton was represented in negotiations by ACLU attorney Elizabeth Gill. The complaints allege that teachers verbally harassed then 16 year old Ms Hamilton over her sexual orientation. The teachers then forced Ms. Hamilton to attend a counseling session for gay students. Attorney Gill said the counselor tried to discourage Ms. Hamilton and other students in the session from being gay.

Additionally, according to a letter dated Jan. 17, 2008, from the ACLU to district Superintendent Mary Bull, staff members made comments to Ms. Hamilton including: "Remember, you're a girl, not a boy," and, "You can get HIV/AIDS from being gay and messing with females."

This entire emotional trauma left Ms. Hamilton too depressed to do homework. She would often cut class because she felt like there was no point since her teachers did not care about her getting an education. She ultimately changed high schools.

Ms. Hamilton, her mother and ACLU attorney Gill are looking forward to the school district following through with the agreement. But, if the district defaults on the legally binding agreement, the ACLU will sue, Gill said.

May 26, 2009

UCLA Settles Civil Rights Lawsuit Over Student Tasered by Campus Police in Library

When US citizen Mostafa Tabatabainejad, then a 23 year old senior at UCLA, went to the library in November 2006, he didn’t expect any of the following to take place: He didn’t expect to be asked for his ID by campus police. He didn’t expect campus police to Taser him (allegedly 3 times) for failing to provide his ID. And, he didn’t expect video of the altercation to end up on YouTube.com.

UCLA%20library.jpgMostafa Tabatabainejad filed a lawsuit claiming his civil rights had been violated.

Following multiple investigations which included reviews of all YouTube videos capturing the event, the acting chancellor’s police accountability expert found the use of the Taser violated department rules.

UCLA police brought in their own expert who cleared the officers involved of any wrongdoing. Then the UCLA police implemented a ban on the use of a Taser on people presenting purely “passive resistance.”

In a statement, UCLA said they would pay $220,000 to settle the lawsuit. The university also said the settlement would allow Tabatabainejad to “complete his UCLA degree and move forward with his career.” Lastly, the statement said there would be no further comments by Tabatabainejad or the university.

Although not in the statement, this attorney would expect the settlement to also include appropriate retraining for all UCLA campus police related to the use of force and Tasers.

May 21, 2009

Los Angeles Unified School District Fails to Protect Children, Ordered To Pay

The Los Angeles Unified School District has been ordered to pay some $1.6 million to families of three girls who were molested by a teacher's aide, a man named Ricardo Guevara. The man is now incarcerated and will spend the next 15 years in jail for lewd acts with a child.

LA%20USD.jpgWhat is incredibly difficult to understand is that the jury and the public were never told that this was actually the third set of accusations that were brought against this man. In two other incidents, he was accused of such crimes and yet, due to a lack of evidence, no charges were pressed and even worse, the man was placed back into the classrooms.

The L.A. Times states that over the years, this is a pattern that the school district has had. There have been other instances, other cases, in which sexual misconduct complaints were brought to the attention of the school district in regards to employees. But, the claims were dropped and the individuals ended up in other schools. In one such instance, the new principal did not know of the background of Guevara.

The evidence is striking. In one instance, a school teacher was accused of molesting a 4th grade student in 2001. Prosecutors declined the case and the man was transferred to another school. He repeated the action and in 2004 was sentenced to six years in jail.

In another instance, an elementary teacher was accused of misconduct for insisting that a child sit on his lap and pose for a camera. The case was brought before the police who told the school to handle it administratively and they did by just telling the man to stop. Later, he pleaded no contest to sexual abuse of a child and will spend 16 years in prison for it.

The problem with these cases is that the legal system does not believe there is enough evidence to pursue legal action. More so, the only evidence comes from frightened children who are often too scared to talk. Many believe, though, the schools should err on the side of safety for the child, rather than protecting the teacher.

May 18, 2009

ACLU Wins Prayer Ruling

In Pensacola, Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has won a case that has been in the courts for several months now. The case was filed on behalf of two students at Pace High School.

pace%20high%20school.jpgThe suit was filed against the Santa Rosa County School Board and named former Superintendent of Schools John Rogers and H. Frank Law, Pace High School principal, as defendants. The students claim that the school allowed religious prayer and promoted religion through the activities the school offered, such as offering prayer at school events. They believed this was a violation to their rights under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment under the state's constitution.

The federal judge presiding over this case agreed, and awarded the students a settlement of $1. The judge's ruling stated that the school officials could not promote, endorse or participate in any type of prayer during or in conjunction with any activities for the school. They cannot provide any religious event planning, financing or organizing. They cannot host any school type event at a religious facility if there are other suitable options available. They also can no longer talk about their religious beliefs within the school's classes.

The ACLU worked for two years to try to get a settlement from the school board, and filed suit when they could not reach one. The school must instruct district staff members of the new requirements.

May 11, 2009

Graduation In Churches Not Okay, Says Wisconsin Students, Families

A group of parents and students have sued the Elmbrook School District in Waukesha County Wisconsin to stop the district from holding graduation ceremonies in a Christian church. The school district has hosted the graduations of both Brookfield Central High School and Brookfield East High School in the Elmbrook Church for some time. The group claims, that forcing non-Christians to be in the church is a violation of their constitutional rights. They claim it creates an atmosphere that makes them uncomfortable.

Elmbrook_Church.jpgAmericans United for Separation of Church and State is helping the parents and students through suing the school district. The group that is suing the district includes one graduating student, several alumni and parents. The school defends their actions to use the church, claiming that the facility is larger and that it is a much more comfortable atmosphere than the other buildings available for such a graduation ceremony in Waukesha County, about ten miles west of Milwaukee.

Originally, the mega-church agreed to cover the large cross that was positioned in the sanctuary. However, it later changed its mind and uncovered it because the church "wants to share its facilities without compromising its identity" as the claim noted. Additionally, those visiting the church for the ceremony also must pass Bibles and Hymnals that are placed in the pews. This creates the uncomfortable situation they are concerned about.

The lawsuit is clear in what it wants to happen. It wants the school district to no longer host this year's or any future year's graduation ceremonies in the mega-church complex. It is also seeking damages for the students and parents named in the case.

The school claims that they do not have an alternative site for the event and that while the church will remove anything that is nonpermanent, it will not move anything that is a permanent fixture within the facility.

May 7, 2009

Teacher Uses the Word "Kill", Files Lawsuit, New Jersey Supreme Court Rules Against Her

In Jersey City, New Jersey, the New Jersey Supreme Court informed a teacher that she could not take action against the school officials who called police on her and sent her for psychiatric evaluations for using the word "kill" in reference to the amount of stress she was under.

The woman, Sopharie Leang, is a Cambodian immigrant who taught English as a second language to students at a public school. She claims that she said her laryngitis on a particular day was brought on by stress and that her doctor told her that, "the amount of stress in my body could have killed some people." But, another teacher, whom Ms. Leang was speaking to in front of a body of 22 students, claims she said, "I'm so stressed out I can kill 22 people."

brain.jpgThe school took decisive action, which the Supreme Court ruled was the right step to take. The school district was justified because an "appropriate and decisive response" was required in this case. The laws that define the boundary between teacher's rights and student's protections is a fine line that often needs to be tested, by cases such as this.

When the other teacher, Vladmir Ashworth noticed her behavior and poor appearance, he reported the situation to the school nurse and to the principal. At that time, the teacher was escorted to the nurse’s office to wait for the principal. When the principal returned to the school some time after being notified, Leang became further aggravated. At that time, the principal called the Jersey City Police Department stating that an emotionally disturbed person was at the school.

She was later taken to a hospital where it was determined she was under a lot of anxiety and her blood pressure was elevated, but she did not have any homicidal ideation. The teacher sued the school district and school officials for the situation claiming a list of claims including breach of contract, wrongful or constructive discharge, sexual harassment and several others. The claims were placed in one lawsuit, which was dismissed on judgment due to the lack of evidence in the case.

The case went in front of an appellate court, which restored some of the claims. After much deliberation, it was determined by the Supreme Court of New Jersey that Leang did not have any cause of action to sue the school officials for their actions.

If you are interested in reading the entire 46 page Supreme Court opinion click here.

May 3, 2009

Parents In Utah School Outraged Over Kids' Safety In School

Two parents found out weeks after the incident that their children were being abused emotionally and potentially physically by another student in their special needs class. The parents, told only of the incident by a classroom aide are furious that the teachers and school officials failed to tell them what actually had happened to their children while in the care of teachers. The events occurred at Plain City Elementary in Utah.

Bully_bathroom.jpgThe mothers, Debbie Veldhuizen and Jamie Doak, have filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights and have sent notice to the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission and the Weber district. Nothing has been done. A lawsuit was dismissed for not being properly filed and they have since stopped pursuing it. They have moved their children out of the school.

But, What Happened?

According to a teacher's aide named Holly Wilson, a third child, not identified, touched Veldhuizen's clothed groin during school, causing him to have an accident. In addition, the same child harassed her son in the bathroom, screaming profanities at the child and threatening to kill him. The eight-year-old boy was so frightened; he was afraid to use the restroom and began having accidents. The other boy, Tucker Doak, does not speak and is about the size of a toddler. The same student choked Tucker and later tried to suffocate him.

The mothers believe that the school officials should have done more for their sons, specifically alerting them of what was happening. However, the school authorities said they did not alert outside authorities because they have to be careful doing so when children act out against other children. They work as a team to handle the situation and ensure it does not happen again. The mothers do not blame the offending child because he too is a special needs child. They do blame the school for the lack of notification and the lack of providing the proper environment.

Throughout the school year, there were four aides. Moreover, for six months of the year, there was no licensed teacher in the classroom due to budget shortfalls.

April 23, 2009

English Language Learners: Not Enough Funding Case Goes To Supreme Court

In this session of the Supreme Court, there will be several cases heard in the educational field. One of which is based on the English language learners, or ELL, courses available in the state of Arizona. The case, Horne vs. Flores is a disagreement by several groups, often split along political party lines. The case involves the amount of funding for such courses and the legal requirements of the state to provide for such courses.

1504001%20Gavel%20%26%20Money%202.jpgThe Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 states that states need to provide appropriate action to provide for equal education to all students, regardless of their origins and nationalities. Yet, in Arizona, the claim is that there was a lack of funding for English language learners instructional methods. The law states, specifically, that every state must, "take appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impeded equal participation by its students in instructional programs."

In 2006, a law passed that increased per pupil ELL funding. In 2007, a judge from the U. S. District stated that the law did not go far enough to provide for the programs in that it only went for providing $444 per pupil in ELL education up from $365 per pupil. Further, the law cut off funding for students who remained in such courses beyond two years. The judge ruled that the state's ELL funding was in violation of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act.

The case gets further complex when the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal act, is taken into account. The state's ELL law requires an offset of funds from the federal government to districts, but runs the risk of reducing the amount that the state can obtain from the No Child Left Behind Act.

April 20, 2009

School District Fails Evaluations: A Child Suffers Years of Lost Learning

A boy named Jarron Draper started his education like any other child, but fell behind as a seven-year-old child. At that age, he was doing poorly and needed the school to provide him with help. Although his teacher recommended that the child be tested to determine what was causing his academic problems, nothing was done. Teachers requested this help in 1995, 1996, and twice in 1997. Throughout this time, the school continued to provide basic education and often isolated the child from functional exercises that could have improved his education.

grade_F.jpgThen, in 1998, Draper was tested and the test revealed that he was failing because of a specific learning disability. At that time, it was evident he had clear signs of dyslexia but these were not addressed by the school system. He was placed in a restrictive classroom from 1998 through 2003. When he entered high school, he had not improved and in fact was struggling at early elementary levels. How does a boy at the age of 13 have only a third grade education?

Later, he was determined that Draper suffered from a low average range of intelligence, a far upper level compared to that of which he was diagnosed in 1998. This means that he did have the ability to learn and he could have been taught, if the school system would have taken steps to test for the disability and provided appropriate education for him.

Unfortunately, although parents recommended aid several times from the school, it would take the courts to intervene before the boy would be given the help he needed. By the time he was in the 12th grade, he still struggled with elementary level education (although the school had thrown him back into the same classes as other high school kids.) The courts ruled that Draper was not provided an effective education under state law by the Atlanta Independent School System. And, although the school tried to appeal the case, it was determined that the school must give him extensive private aid or pay for a private school.

Up to 20 percent of students drop out because they do not have legal representation to help them fight school failures. Draper did have this, but it is worrisome to think of what would happen to students who do fall through the cracks.

April 16, 2009

Valedictorian Sues and Loses Over Censoring Of Her Speech

In 2006, Foothill High School graduate Brittany McComb took to the podium to recite her valedictorian speech. During the speech to her Henderson Nevada classmates, she made several comments that administrators state strayed from her preapproved speech. Due to the content of that portion of her speech, Miss McComb believed she was being censored unfairly and that her First Amendment Rights were being violated. And that, took her to court.

In her speech, she made the following statement, "God's love is so great that he gave his only son up to an excruciating death on a cross so his blood would cover all our shortcomings and our relationship with him could be restored." At that point, her microphone was unplugged and the audience was unable to hear the rest of her speech. The video of the commencement has been on YouTube for two years and has since been viewed more than 35,000 times.

McComb learned this month that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would no longer hear her case. The panel of three judges issued a memo reversing a federal judge decision from 2007 not to grant a district motion to dismiss the case. While they can approve, McComb's attorney did not believe their chances were good. The panel stated that they did not believe the school violated her right to free speech by not allowing the "proselytizing graduation speech" to continue.

April 13, 2009

Cyberbullying: Schools, Websites, and Parents Go Head To Head

Cyperbullying is the act of threatening individuals in some manner through electronic means. Bullying in general is something that many students have faced over their school life and now, it has moved to the Internet. A good example of what is happening is with the website Facebook, a very popular, social network geared towards connected people.

694662_Bully_cyberbully.jpgFacebook users can create "hate groups" in which some students are using to mock, harass or otherwise harm users. This has lead to situations in which students are bullying other students not on school grounds, but through the Interent. The problem here is that there is no one group that is considered ultimately responsible for fixing this form of bullying.

The State of California passed Assembly Bill 86, which defines cyberbullying, but some believe it does not go far enough. Should police be involved in the situation, to handle these types of situations? Or, should the school be responsible? In some cases expressing cyberbullying, schools are often unable to monitor children off school grounds and yet try to stop cyberbullying anyway.

Some parents disagree with this. They do not want schools monitoring their children's computers or interacting with children outside of the classroom atmosphere. Parents themselves are often unable to monitor children close enough due to groups like Facebook, which makes it very easy for kids to come together online without their parent's knowing. Take this a step farther and some could blame social groups like Facebook, which does not have stricter requirements. Should the website stop kids from cyberbullying? They often do not realize such groups exist until it is brought to their attention, which rarely happens soon enough.

An example of this happened in California's Palo Alto school where a group of kids created a Facebook group that was called "I Hate Tyler" which was specifically targeted towards a student at Jordan Middle School. Over 100 members joined the group, which was created after the boy posted a video of himself singing on another popular site YouTube.

The question remains. Who is responsible for policing children who participate in cyberbullying?

Continue reading "Cyberbullying: Schools, Websites, and Parents Go Head To Head" »

April 9, 2009

Religious Themed Song Leads Parents To Sue School

Parents in St. Augustine, Florida, have filed a lawsuit against Webster Elementary School. The parents are upset about a recent incident in which their third grade children were made to sing a religious themed song. The song was part of the school's end of the year program.

The children began singing the song, "In God We Still Trust" by country group Diamond Rio a month prior to the lawsuit being filed. The group of parents believe that the song interferes with the parent's rights to raise children according to their own beliefs.

in_god_we_still_trust-1.jpgWhen one parent complained about the song, St. John’s County School District Superintendent Dr. Joseph Joyner pulled the song from the program. Hours before the filing of the lawsuit, the entire program was cancelled. Parents filing the suit claim that they are still entitled to damages due to the fact that their children were forced to learn the religious song. They claim that the school should not have provided the children with the song, because they feel the district should bar any religious instruction during school time, which they claim the song represents.

Some of the song's lyrics appear in the image above: (copyright Diamond Rio):

The lawsuit claims that the song's message is that God is part of American history and therefore individuals should fight attempts that try to secularize society.

The attorney for the school board states that singing a song that is like this is different than praying in school. In the past, schools have been allowed to sing religious songs. He claims that just singing a song does not mean that the school is endorsing the religion.

April 5, 2009

Parents File Suit Against School For Son's Suicide Brought On By Bullying

On an average school day in 2007, a high school junior named Eric Mohat decided he would come home and follow the advice given to him by a classmate. He shot himself, committing suicide because of the bullying that tormented him in the months and years prior. His parents have filed a lawsuit against the school.

bully.jpgThe school, located in Mentor, Ohio, allegedly knew of the bullying and did little to nothing to stop it, his parents claim. William and Janis Mohat filed the lawsuit against Jacqueline A. Hoynes, Joseph Spiccia (school officials) and Thomas Horvath (a math teacher) who they believe knew that their son was being bullied.

Mr. and Mrs. Mohat state that their son was very gentle and was the type of child to enjoy theater and music. He was tormented by bullies, in particular there were several in his math class, which was taught by Mr. Horvath. The teacher was also a sports coach at the school. These bullies called him various inflammatory names, and the teacher did nothing to stop the behavior. One day, one of the students told Eric to go home and shoot himself. That is just what he did.

The parents are not looking for money in this case but want the school to establish an anti bully program that would stop such bullying from happening. The school needed it, as in the same year as Eric's suicide, three other classmates committed suicide. All of those deaths were brought on by bullying as well.

March 18, 2009

"RENT" Cancellation Sparks Lawsuit At High School

Corona del Mar High School was recently put in the national spotlight when the school's cancellation of the musical "Rent" was reversed. Things have gotten a bit worse as the Newport Mesa Unified School District is now facing a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union. The lawsuit states that the school allowed a "sexist and homophobic environment" for students on campus.

RENT%20musical%202.jpgCorona del Mar High School administrators are at the center of the lawsuit. The lawsuit specifically states that the atmosphere created at the school was hostile to "female, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students in general, and has led to despicable threats of violence against one student in particular."

The school district does not believe all claims in the lawsuit and is said to be working on resolving the issues involved.

The lawsuit in part stems from the threats of violence found in a video posted online in which three students from the school were allegedly making slurs towards gays. Another student was allegedly threatened, and left the campus out of fear.

The problems originated when the school pulled an edited version of the rock opera "Rent" from the musical department. The musical portrays gay characters that battle AIDS and do drugs. Originally, the musical was pulled by the principal until the script could be reviewed, after which it was put back on.

The lawsuit states that those students were not punished harshly enough for their actions and therefore the school is being discriminatory. It claims that when students use anti gay slurs in front of teachers, students go unpunished. The ACLU is seeking damages on the behalf of the students, training for students and the schoolteachers and administrators and a statement stating that the school violated the civil rights laws in place.

March 17, 2009

California Court of Appeal: “Berkeley Unified School District Not Discriminating”

In a recent ruling on the method used to send children in the Berkeley Unified School District to school, the school system was found not to be discriminating. The American Civil Rights Foundation who believed the method of selecting children for schools was unfair challenged the system.

422216_uc_berkeley.jpgStates have implemented affirmative policies that help to foster diversity within the school systems. Courts are often faced with making decisions on whether these policies have gone too far and in themselves are now discriminatory based on race.

The policy in question was one, which had the goals of achieving social diversity. The school system uses a unique process to determine the location of the child's school. They base this on the neighborhood demographics. The policy in no way considers race, the court found, and therefore is not doing anything illegal by working to promote diversity in the system.

The assignment policy for the school district takes into fact a variety of components. This includes the student's residential neighborhood, the average household income in that neighborhood, the average education level of the adults living there, and the racial composition of the entire neighborhood, but not the student. When the demographics of a neighborhood are in use rather than the student's race itself, there is no case of discrimination against the student nor is the student receiving preferential treatment.

For those of you in school district management, whether or not you are a Sylvester, Oppenheim & Linde client, you will find the court’s opinion very educational. We invite you to read or download it by clicking on the following link: Court of Appeal Opinion A121137.

January 14, 2009

San Francisco Special Education Lottery Against Federal Laws

Under federal law, children with disabilities receive specific rights. These are defined under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (called IDEA for short). The laws require that each child with special educational requirements receive an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. A team is assembled including professionals and the parents to work out the child's goals, needs, and to choose a placement in the proper class. This, some parents claim, is not what is happening in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD).

864731_lucky_numbers_3.jpgStudents are placed in a lottery there, where a computer will select the proper placement for them. The problem is, this is a general education lottery system, and while the children do have an IEP in place, the parents have no ability to participate in the process of selecting their educational goals and teachers. This is against federal law, some say.

One instance that can help to shed some light on the problem happened recently to a parent who receives her child's information regarding teacher and class placement for their child. They went to see the teacher and classroom to discuss the child's needs. Little did they know when they arrived that the school just learned of the upcoming class and that no teacher had even been hired for it? Parents are allowed to request teacher qualifications and determine if the placement is acceptable for their child. This parent would have to wait until fall to determine this and, even worse, the child would likely remain in the class for a full year, even if there were an ill fit.

While the lottery method is still in use, parents have challenged it in the past. In both instances, the SFUSD lost at the “due process” hearing. If you are interested (especially if you are in school district administration) in reading the California DOE Special Education Hearing Office decisions, we have linked them HERE-1 and HERE-2 for your convenience.

The lottery system may work for standard elementary students, but for those with special education needs, current law illustrates that it falls short.

November 3, 2008

Suing School Districts Over First Amendment Rights?

Steve Rocco, an Orange Unified School District trustee filed suit in 2006 claiming that his first amendment rights were violated when he believes he was wrongfully censured by fellow trustees when he commented on the move of a principal within the district. He also claims that his rights were violated when the cable television channel allegedly edited a videotape message. The case was defeated by the courts and an appeal was shot down.

orangeusd.jpgCitizens are angry for several reasons, not to mention the man's notable behavior during school board meetings. Still, what angers them more so is the local media's handling of the case. They claim that the media fought for Rocco to the point of allowing the rights of Rocco's to be more important than the rights of all the children in the Orange Unified School District, where the incident took place. Their claim stems from the funds used to pay for such lawsuits.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled that the Rocco group now owes Orange Unified District some $37,000. Rocco claims that the money is covered by a bond and as such none of that money will come out of his pocket. In short, he along with other controversial board members are no longer on the hook to pay these costs.

Justice prevailed here. With the Court decision, funds expended on this lawsuit by the school district will NOT be taken from funds used to pay for students’ educational needs.

February 20, 2008

US Supreme Court Protects California Student’s Freedom of Expression

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court held intact a ruling that said Novato school district officials violated a student's freedom of expression when they confiscated a high school newspaper because of an editorial criticizing immigration. The case is Novato Unified School District vs. Smith, 07-783.

Freedom%20of%20Speech.jpgA California appeals court in San Francisco ruled last May, upholding a California law that protects freedom of the press in public schools even more strongly than the constitutional rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.

Tuesday's Supreme Court order, which also denied a hearing sought by the Novato Unified School District, means that students in California "will be able to publish very controversial political opinions without fearing retribution," said Paul Beard of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a lawyer for the student who wrote the editorial.

After some students and parents protested High school senior Andrew Smith’s editorial, school district officials pulled remaining copies of the newspaper out of circulation and sent a letter to parents saying the editorial shouldn't have been published.

Along with his father, Smith sued in Marin County Superior Court, claiming that the district had illegally censored the piece and subjected him to public reprimand for expressing unpopular positions.

A judge dismissed the suit, noting that the editorial had been published and that the student hadn't been disciplined. But the First District Court of Appeal said the district had violated Smith's rights by confiscating the paper and sending the message to parents.

The appeals court said state law guarantees freedom of the press on campus unless an article is obscene or libelous, or unless it creates a clear and present danger of lawbreaking or disorder on campus.

The school district "succumbed to the fear of disruption and discontent" when it removed the newspaper from circulation, the state court said. Smith was awarded $1 and a declaration that his rights had been violated.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that public school officials could censor student newspapers and remove sensitive topics without violating the First Amendment. California, however, is one of about a half-dozen states with laws that explicitly protect student expression even if it is controversial.

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September 30, 2007

California Department of Education Settles Lawsuit with American Diabetes Association

The American Diabetes Association and the California Department of Education have settled a lawsuit that reinforces laws to protect diabetic students. In the settlement the students must have access on their campus to diabetes-related services, such as blood testing and insulin injections.

If a school nurse or family member is unavailable, then a volunteer can be trained to administer the insulin injection. A shortage of California school nurses and liability concerns about training non medical staff could stall the effects of the settlement.

550152_diabetes.jpgAccording to a recent article in the Press Enterprise, “… the California School Nurses Organization sent a letter advising school nurses to seek guidance from district lawyers before proceeding. Executive Director Nancy Spradling said nurses were concerned about losing their licenses should they train non-medical staff.”

The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund reports that the settlement includes the following provisions:
• Districts cannot centralize diabetes-related services at one school. They must be
available at every school.
• Districts must identify and evaluate diabetic students.
• Financial burden is no defense for not providing services.
• If no school nurse or authorized personnel is available, a volunteer with adequate
training can administer insulin.

The question remains: Will the California School Nurses Organization assist in the implementation of this settlement of choose another path?

May 15, 2007

California Student Loses “That’s So Gay” Lawsuit

Rebekah Rice sought damages after being disciplined, then ridiculed, for using the phrase "that's so gay" at Maria Carillo High School in Santa Rosa. Superior Court Judge Elaine Rushing ruled that school administrators did not single Rebekah Rice out for punishment, nor did they break any laws when they disciplined her for using the phrase "that's so gay" in response to students who were teasing her about her Mormon upbringing.


Superior Court Judge Elaine Rushing: "All of us have probably felt at some time that we were unfairly punished by a callous teacher, or picked on and teased by boorish and uncaring bullies. Unfortunately, this is part of what teenagers endure in becoming adults. The law, with all its majesty and might, is simply too crude and imprecise an instrument to satisfactorily soothe deeply hurt feelings."

Additionally, Judge Rushing also rejected the claim that the school refused to protect Rebekah from teasing about her Mormon religion. In an unusual move, Judge Rushing admonished the family for aggravating Rebekah’s situation, stating "If the Rice family had not told everyone that Rebekah had been given a referral for saying 'That's so gay' then no one else would have know it either, and she would not have been referred to as the 'That's so gay girl.'"

It’s good to see the judiciary rule in favor of the rules and laws which California school districts must follow. It is outstanding to see a judge hold parents accountable for exacerbating a minor school discipline issue and escalating it to a lawsuit.

As a law firm that deals in school district litigation and lawsuits regularly, this was truly a notable ruling.

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