Articles Posted in School District Law

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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 welcome 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

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The Clark County School District in Nevada has been ordered by a jury to pay some former students $540,000 because of an attack that happened on school property in 2013. Plaintiffs in the case say that Canyon Springs High School, Principal Ronnie Guerzon and the district did not adequately protect the victims of the attack.

Legal-Fees-PaidThree high school students were attending the “Senior Sunrise” breakfast at Canyon Springs High School in August 2013. As incoming seniors, they had been invited to the event. A text message that encouraged attendees to “bring their friends” had received wide distribution in the prior weeks. This may have helped three non-student attackers, who were all 18, to hear about the event and to decide to drop by. The intruders remained at the breakfast for about an hour with the approximately 150 other attendees.

As the event was winding down, the intruders started a food fight that had them spitting on the students. The three victims were then severely beaten. One victim was diagnosed with a skull fracture that including bleeding in the brain and another was robbed. Ultimately, the three intruders were charged with numerous crimes including battery with a deadly weapon, possession of a dangerous weapon on school property, robbery and challenges to fight. All three were convicted.

The three victims in the attack later sued the district and the school’s former principal, alleging that not enough was done to protect them from the intruders. Among the charges, the plaintiffs claim that security cameras were not operational, that identification was not being checked at the entrance and that there was not enough staff on site to provide adequate security. Court documents say that similar incidents had occurred at the same high school in the past.

For now, the school district is facing a sizable payment to the three victims of the attack. It seems likely that they will appeal the decision, though no announcement has been made. The plaintiffs’ attorney says she hopes that the district will “do more to keep kids safe,” and this is a cautionary tale for school administrators everywhere.

 

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The Ninth Circuit Court has acted to further eliminate the wage gap. In fact, it reversed a decision that the judge now views as unjust. The ruling sets precedent for female employees who allege that they are paid less than similarly qualified male counterparts for the same work.

Compensation-134182432-001The case in question is Rizo v. Yovino. Aileen Rizo is a math consultant employed with Fresno County Public Schools. When she learned that male colleagues in her department were being paid significantly more than she was, Rizo began investigating. What she learned eventually led her to sue her employer. Basically, Rizo was earning less because she had been paid less in her previous positions with other employers. Fresno County Public Schools used her wage history as justification for paying her less than male counterparts with similar experience.

The Ninth Circuit agreed with this pay history reasoning last year, aligning themselves with the defendant because the pay differential was based on “a factor other than sex.” The recent reversal of this finding means that a worker’s pay history cannot be construed as “a factor other than sex” under the auspices of the Equal Pay Act. This decision effectively wipes out 30 years of precedent, and activists say that it strikes a major blow to the wage gap situation.

In the decision, Judge Reinhardt wrote that “‘any factor other than sex’ is limited to legitimate, job-related factors such as a prospective employee’s experience, educational background, ability, or prior job performance.” The judge went on to argue that using the Equal Pay Act to perpetuate the gender wage gap runs contrary to the very purpose of the Act.

The decision is an echo of several state-level decisions that are prohibiting employers from gathering data relating to the salary history of prospective employees. Accordingly, it is critical for employers to update their hiring processes to reflect these changes. It also is sensible to review current salary data for all existing employees to ensure that any pay disparities between male and female colleagues with similar qualifications are supported by the provisions of the Equal Pay Act.

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In a new twist on the classic school bully story, one dad in New Jersey is suing his son’s school after the boy was disciplined for bullying.

schoolbullyingThe story began two years ago when Robert E. Taylor’s son was in the third grade. Identified only as “H.T.,” the boy was in the cafeteria when another boy tried to remove his sweatshirt. The t-shirt he was wearing underneath stuck to the sweatshirt, exposing the boy’s abdomen. Witnesses claimed that H.T. and at least one of his friends laughed at the other boy. The friend also drew a caricature of the boy without a shirt, and H.T. allegedly encouraged his friend to post the picture on Facebook.

The picture was never posted, but the trouble had begun. The school’s vice principal spoke to H.T. in an interview in which H.T. denied laughing at the other boy or encouraging his friend to post the picture on Facebook. Not satisfied, the vice principal kept digging, discovering that the other boy was frequently called names by students, though no one could remember H.T. ever being among the name callers.

The vice principal concluded that H.T. must be involved. In a later interview, H.T. told the principal that he had laughed at the boy and encouraged his friend to post the picture online. However, H.T. maintained that he had not participated in any other bullying activity against the other boy.

H.T. was punished for his behavior by having to miss one day of recess, but his father was not satisfied with the outcome. He appealed the punishment to the school board, eventually taking the case to the Commissioner of Education for the state. The commissioner passed the case on to the Office of Administrative Law, but Taylor doubted that he would get the results he was hoping for from that entity.

Now, he has filed a lawsuit that argues that his son’s free speech and due process rights were violated. The suit also claims racial discrimination, detailing harsher punishments for black students at the school. It remains to be seen how this case will be decided.

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A former teacher in Illinois has prevailed over his erstwhile employer in court. Bruce Vukadinovich sued the Hanover Community School Corp. for age discrimination, retaliation and violation of due process. Although the court rejected the discrimination and retaliation claims, Vukadinovich was awarded more than $200,000 for the due process claim.

you-are-firedThe story began years ago in a different school district. Back then, Vukadinovich was working for Hammond Schools when he filed a lawsuit against his employer for age discrimination. That lawsuit was settled, and the plaintiff went on to Hanover Central High School. He worked there for eight years until his contract was terminated in a workforce reduction. Vukadinovich sought answers from the district about why he was fired, but couldn’t get a straight answer. That’s when he filed the lawsuit against the Hanover Community School Corp.

The wrinkle is that a school district official who worked for Hammond Schools when Vukadinovich sued that district had recently transferred over to the Hanover Community School Corp. Vukadinovich believed that his firing was an act of retaliation over his earlier successful suit against Hammond Schools.

Several years of litigation followed, with Vukadinovich representing himself against his former employer. A jury and a judge ultimately agreed with the plaintiff that he was denied due process. In his decision, Judge Philip Simon wrote: “To put it bluntly, after several years of presiding over this litigation, including a five day jury trial, I cannot tell you why Vukadinovich was terminated.” The judge went on to say that the jury sympathized with Vukadinovich’s desire to receive a “straight-forward explanation” for his firing.

The judge also took issue with the school district’s claim that they didn’t tell Vukadinovich why he was terminated because he didn’t ask. Arguing that the situation was “not a game of ‘Guess the Reason You’re Being Fired,'” Simon pointed out that the reason should have been disclosed up front so that Vukadinovich could have defended himself.

This case demonstrates the importance of keeping documentation citing all of the reasons for an adverse employment action. Doing so may prevent a lawsuit from being filed.

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A former student in San Diego has been awarded more than $1.25 million stemming from an incident in which she was forced to relieve herself in a bucket.

need-to-pee-118755742-001Back in 2012, the 14 year-old student was in a 25-minute advisory class at Patrick Henry High School when she felt the urgent need to urinate. The short class was designed so students could study. This particular session was being presided over by art teacher Gonja Wolf. Teachers had been told that frequent bathroom breaks would undermine the efficacy of the class. Wolf believed that the school did not allow any bathroom breaks during the advisory class, so she searched for an alternative.

As it happens, Wolf had already invested in a bucket that was intended to provide an alternative to using the bathroom in the case of a lockdown. The teacher admitted to having used the bucket herself when she was working late. Accordingly, she took the student to an adjacent supply closet where she gave her the bucket and instructed her to flush the contents down the sink when she was done.

It wasn’t long before word got out about the incident. Local media had a field day, and the result was that the student was teased relentlessly. An excess of gossip and lewd texts drove the student into depression. An eventual suicide attempt drove her to seek ongoing medical care. Between the media glare and the unwanted attention from fellow students, she was forced to switch schools twice before finally graduating from a charter school.

The girl and her family initially asked the district for $25,000 in compensation, a request that was denied. Nonetheless, officials offered an apology and help for the anguished student. It’s unlikely they imagined that the case would one day be settled in the courtroom, leaving them without $1.25 million in damages plus $41,000 for medical expenses.

District officials say that they may appeal the jury’s decision. Testimony at trial indicated that the district’s teachers are now told to allow bathroom breaks during all periods. Nonetheless, this has been an embarrassing chapter for everyone concerned.

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The ACLU recently reported a disturbing trend in American public schools. Teachers are more frequently turning to student resource officers when it comes to matters of classroom discipline. That’s true when there is a violent threat, but also true when a student is being disruptive or engaging in bullying behavior.

Render illustration of 'YOUTH BULLYING' title on the ground in a police arena. Police concept

Unfortunately, the growing reliance on other authority figures to mete out punishment is having drastic and far-reaching consequences. Many of the kids who are subjected to interaction with a student resource officer soon see their grades begin to plummet, and they are far more likely to drop out of school.

Many school districts now employ a police officer to help provide discipline and security on campus. These student resource officers, or SROs, used to be rare. Only one percent of U.S. schools had an SRO in 1975, but in recent years that number has surged to a police presence that amounts to 24 percent in elementary schools. A full 42 percent of high schools also have at least one SRO on campus.

In California alone during the 2013-2014 school year, 20,000 students received some form of discipline from an SRO. Most of these cases involved minor disruptions and rule infractions, things that teachers might have handled themselves some years ago. Of those 20,000 cases, 9,500 resulted in an arrest. Instead of going through some kind of disciplinary program at the school, these kids ended up in the criminal justice system, doubling their chances of dropping out.

The study also showed that a disproportionate number of students who have police interactions in schools are minorities, have disabilities or come from low-income neighborhoods. This suggests that the use of SROs in the classroom may be unfairly focused on these communities.

Most schools give teachers complete latitude regarding when to request SRO assistance. The ACLU suggests that schools write comprehensive guidelines regarding the circumstances under which SROs should get involved. Moreover, it is recommended that funds be diverted from SROs to the recruitment of counselors and mental health professionals so schools can better deal with disciplinary issues and the causes that underlie them.

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A lawsuit has been launched by the ACLU against Kansas City Public Schools. In the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that a seven year-old child, who weighed less than 50 pounds and was not even four feet tall, was handcuffed before being led to the principal’s office after a classroom disturbance.

Wooden gavel and handcuffsThe incident occurred in April 2014. Kalyb Primm, a student with a slight hearing impediment, was asked by his teacher to move to another seat in their classroom at George Melcher Elementary School. Primm alleges in the lawsuit that he was being teased and bullied, which led him to cry and yell. A school resource officer named Brandon Craddock was passing by and heard the disturbance.

Entering the classroom, Craddock tried to join the teacher’s efforts to quiet Primm. When these efforts didn’t succeed he asked Primm twice to accompany him to the office of the school’s principal Anne Wallace. The complaint says that Primm became frightened once outside the classroom, crying again and trying to walk away. Craddock attempted to lead Primm to the principal’s office by the arm, but the child grasped a railing with his free hand. Allegedly without trying to find a way to de-escalate the situation, Craddock handcuffed the boy, taking him to the office where he sat quietly for 10 to 15 minutes while waiting for his father to arrive.

The ACLU lawsuit argues that Primm’s Constitutional rights were violated by the actions of the school resource officer. Among the allegations, the complaint says that Primm was unlawfully seized and restrained. ACLU legal director Tony Rothert remarked that, “Gratuitously handcuffing children is cowardly and violates the constitution.” Moreover, the action may have been a violation of state law. Plaintiffs are requesting attorney’s fees and compensation for damages. Additionally, the complaint asks for enhanced training regarding constitutional rights for school resource officers in the region.

This lawsuit is still in its early stages. Nonetheless, it demonstrates the pressing need for law enforcement, security officials, schools and businesses to be aware of the constitutional rights of every citizen, and to actively work to support those rights.

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The Third Circuit Court has ruled in favor of a Pennsylvania school district in a lawsuit brought by the family of a student who was assaulted on a school campus. The assault occurred in the 2012-2013 school year at Chester High School, which is within the boundaries of the defendant in the lawsuit, Chester Upland School District.

Stop school violence road signThe victim was Alphonzo Green, a high school freshman at the time of the assault. Chester High had abolished the issuance of student identification cards, and was not requiring visitors to register at the office or wear a pass. A trespasser entered the campus on a day that is referred to as “National Fight Day” with the apparent object of assaulting several students. Green was one of these.

Green’s father, Alphonzo King, filed a lawsuit against the school district, citing their lax security policies as having caused the attack on his son. According to the complaint, Green’s civil rights had been violated and the district had fostered a dangerous condition when it did away with the ID card requirements. Thus, the complaint argued, Green’s due process was violated.

A district court decided in favor of the defendant, but King chose to appeal to a higher court. The three judge panel sided with the lower court, finding that the claim did not meet four criteria that would have proven the school district’s liability. Mainly, the judges relied upon whether or not the district’s decision not to provide student identification cards was an affirmative act that created a situation that was dangerous for the plaintiff. They concluded that the omission of ID cards did not constitute an affirmative act.

Moreover, the judges felt that the plaintiff couldn’t demonstrate how the physical assault was a “fairly direct” consequence of the school’s refusal to issue ID cards. The plaintiff could only succeed with this claim if he proved that the lack of student ID cards somehow provided the impetus for the physical assault. Arguing that the attack was the result of “random criminal conduct,” the judges decided that the district bore no liability in the incident.

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With a total of more than 1,200 charter schools, California has the largest concentration of these alternative learning institutions in the country. Students and their parents may choose a charter school if they are interested in a more creative curriculum and the higher potential for one-on-one interaction with students.

school%20bus%20%26%20child%2044980077-001.jpgCharter schools encourage students to reach enhanced academic goals. Sometimes these alternative learning centers prove to be a valuable asset for at-risk youth too. School resource officers in California have been known to divert students who have gang affiliations or who are being recruited by gangs to charter schools, a maneuver that often puts them back on the right path.

However, not everyone is thrilled with the prevalence of charter schools in California. There are no fewer than six lawsuits pending in Los Angeles and San Diego counties that, if successful, might shut down or relocate several charter schools. The main point of contention concerns so-called Satellite Facilities, which may also be referred to as Resource Centers or Meeting Centers. Supporters of these lawsuits claim that many of these facilities exist in violation of the 1992 act that created the charter school system.

Plaintiffs allege that California Education Code Section 47605 places geographic restrictions on where charter schools can be located. Charter school proponents counter that this restriction applies only to school campuses and not to Satellite Facilities. A representative from the charter schools, says that these facilities are, resource centers used for non-classroom based independent study. Accordingly, charter school supporters believe that they should be able to open such facilities without having to adhere to the location restrictions.

Defendants in the lawsuit believe the problem all comes down to money. Charter schools are becoming increasingly popular. Enrollment has soared at facilities across the state, taking away students from traditional schools. This means less funding for these schools and more funding for charter schools.

These lawsuits are still in the early stages. It seems unlikely that charter schools will be disappearing, but supporters may be in for a fight when it comes to preserving existing facilities.