Articles Posted in Title IX

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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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Girls attending middle school in the Pasadena Unified School District have declared victory in a battle over equal access to sports. The students were assisted by the California Women’s Law Center and the Employment Law Center of the Legal Aid Society. Because no lawsuit was filed, the claim was settled informally outside of court.

School%20Girls%20Team%2022232833-001.jpgThe trouble centered around the school district’s Pasadena LEARNs program. An after school and summer program, Pasadena LEARNs offers students enriching experiences from kindergarten through high school. Participating students may get help with homework, take performing arts classes, attend field trips and enjoy other academic activities. The program also boasts a full menu of sports. However, girls at the middle school level quickly learned that there was little opportunity for them to be involved in this aspect of the program.

Through the Pasadena LEARNs program, boys had their pick of flag football, soccer and basketball. Although most of the sports leagues were labeled as co-ed, very few girls were making the cut to play on teams. The parent of a female middle school student brought forth the complaint about a year ago when her daughter failed to make the cut on the co-ed basketball team. Other parents had also noticed that the so-called co-ed teams were heavily unbalanced in favor of boys.

A Title IX complaint was launched against the district. Title IX is a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 that provides all students equal access to all academic and sports facilities regardless of gender. The district maintains that their after school program was in compliance with Title IX all along. Nonetheless, they are now offering girls’ basketball and soccer programs and may be adding volleyball in the future.

Both sides were happy to settle the matter outside of the courtroom. The agreement saved significant costs and achieved an equitable result. Now girls who participate in the Pasadena LEARNs program will have leagues of their own and equal treatment as far as equipment, facilities, coaching and recruiting. The agreement appears to be a win-win situation for everyone involved.
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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.

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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.

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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.

If you are a California school administrator with a question about student/teacher safety, special education, accommodations, student rights, free speech or discipline, or school employment law, feel free to call attorney Richard Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. There is never a charge for an initial consultation and we can help you choose the best direction to resolve any school district issue.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.
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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.
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