Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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Nine parents of students with disabilities who attend South Carolina public schools and two disability advocacy organizations filed suit challenging a South Carolina provision in the South Carolina state budget that prohibits school districts from using appropriated funds to impose mask mandates. The district court granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the law's enforcement.The Fourth Circuit concluded that the parents and the disability advocacy organizations lack standing to sue the governor and the attorney general, and thus vacated the district court's order granting the preliminary injunction as to those defendants. In this case, although plaintiffs have alleged a nexus between their claimed injuries and the Proviso, they have not established that such injuries are fairly traceable to defendants' conduct or would be redressed by a favorable ruling against defendants. Accordingly, the court remanded with instructions to dismiss defendants from this case. View "Disability Rights South Carolina v. McMaster" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by plaintiff, alleging that the school district had violated her daughters' rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The court held that plaintiff's withdrawal of the children from the school district system rendered moot her request for prospective relief. Furthermore, because the district court proceedings under the IDEA are original civil actions, the court held that plaintiff's failure to specify in her complaint that she was seeking compensatory education for her children, or to include allegations from which a request for compensatory education reasonably could be inferred, precludes her present assertion of a live controversy in the district court. View "Johnson v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Davison began to publicly criticize Louden school policies, alleging violations of federal law, misleading budget information, and flouting Virginia’s Conflict of Interest Act. Davison frequently chastised school board members in many forums and during board meetings. He routinely emailed individual board members and made multiple social media posts about his complaints. Davison also commented on board members’ social media platforms. Davison mentioned weapons; there were concerns about the welfare of his children. Board members voiced personal safety concerns, which led to the 2015 no-trespass letters that prohibited his presence on school property and attendance at any school-sponsored activities unless authorized. Davidson’s previous state-court challenge has been dismissed.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Davison’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit, citing res judicata. Davison agreed to dismiss his state petition, which included federal claims, with prejudice, despite having the opportunity to withdraw his petition. The board’s policy, which prohibits all personal attacks, regardless of viewpoint, because they cause “unnecessary delay or disruption to a meeting,” is a constitutional policy for a limited public forum because it is viewpoint neutral, and the restriction is reasonable in light of the purpose of the board. The district court correctly determined that Davison did not experience retaliation. With respect to claims against individuals and claims based on reports to protective services concerning Davison’s children, the court cited qualified immunity. Davison was not deprived of procedural due process. View "Davison v. Rose" on Justia Law

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“Jane Doe,” age 19, filed suit. She alleged in detail multiple acts of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, including rape, against her during several months when she was a student at a Fairfax County, Virginia middle school, and the school’s inaction to end the offensive conduct when it was ongoing. She claimed violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and other laws. She alleged that the defendants undoubtedly knew her identity from the extensive details included in the 40-page complaint. Nonetheless, the defendants filed motions to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff’s failure to provide her true name had deprived the court of subject-matter jurisdiction and that this jurisdictional flaw could no longer be remedied because the statute of limitations for the federal claims had lapsed days after Doe filed her complaint. The plaintiff then disclosed her true name to the court and requested that she be allowed to proceed under a pseudonym.The district court denied the defendants’ motions, and, because the sensitive nature of the allegations warranted “the utmost level of privacy,” it allowed the action to proceed pseudonymously. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. While the plaintiff had not adhered to FRCP 10(a), which requires that the title of a complaint include the names of all parties, that failure was immaterial to the court’s subject-matter jurisdiction. View "B.R. v. F.C.S.B." on Justia Law

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Doe, a student at a public school in Virginia, had recently undergone a gender transition. Vlaming, Doe’s French teacher, refused to use male pronouns to refer to Doe. Vlaming argued that using male pronouns to refer to someone who was born a female violated his religious beliefs. Eventually, the superintendent placed Vlaming on administrative leave and recommended his dismissal. After a hearing, the School Board dismissed Vlaming for failure to comply with his superiors’ directives and violations of policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment. Vlaming sued, alleging statutory and constitutional violations and breach of contract. The Board removed the case to federal court, arguing the district court had removal jurisdiction because it had federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. 1441(c), over whether Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The Board also argued that because Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681, was a “law providing for equal rights,” section 1443(2), the civil rights removal statute, authorized removal.The district court granted Vlaming’s motion for remand. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Because none of Vlaming’s state law claims necessarily raises a federal issue, federal question jurisdiction is lacking, and section 1441(c) does not provide a basis for removal. The Supreme Court has limited the meaning of a “law providing for equal rights” in section 1443 to only those concerning racial equality. View "Vlaming v. West Point School Board" on Justia Law

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Under the North Carolina Charter School Act, any child eligible to attend a public school may choose to attend a charter school, but no one is required to attend one. North Carolina charter schools are nominally public schools but are operated by private nonprofit corporations and are exempt from statutes applicable to local boards of education. Although charter schools must adopt policies governing student conduct and discipline, the state does not supervise the content of those policies. CDS, a nonprofit corporation, holds a charter to operate Charter Day School in rural Brunswick County, which currently educates over 900 elementary and middle school students. RBA (a for-profit entity) manages day-to-day operations at Charter Day, which operates as a school promoting traditional values. The school adopted a uniform policy. Three female students sued, challenging a requirement that girls wear either skirts, jumpers or skorts, instead of pants or shorts. The complaint cited the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX, 20 U.S.C. 1681. The district court granted the plaintiffs summary judgment on the equal protection claim but held that Title IX did not reach school dress codes. The Fourth Circuit reversed. The charter school was not a state actor when promulgating the dress code and is not subject to an equal protection claim but claims of sex discrimination related to a dress code are not categorically excluded from Title IX's scope. View "Peltier v. Charter Day School, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former student at Oakton High School, filed suit under Title IX against the school board, alleging that her school’s administrators acted with deliberate indifference to reports that she had been sexually harassed by another Oakton student, "Jack Smith." The jury ruled against plaintiff and the district court subsequently denied her motion for a new trial.The Fourth Circuit reversed, holding that a school's receipt of a report that can objectively be taken to allege sexual harassment is sufficient to establish actual notice or knowledge under Title IX—regardless of whether school officials subjectively understood the report to allege sexual harassment or whether they believed the alleged harassment actually occurred. The court further concluded that under this standard, no evidence in the record supports the jury's conclusion that the school board lacked actual notice of Smith's alleged sexual harassment of plaintiff. Accordingly, the court remanded for a new trial. View "Doe v. Fairfax County School Board" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's Title IX claim against the Visitors of Virginia State University and his Fourteenth Amendment claims against a university administrator. Plaintiff's claims arose from an altercation with a former girlfriend in a VSU dormitory.The court adopted the Seventh Circuit's approach, which closely tracks the text of Title IX, asking merely "do the alleged facts, if true, raise a plausible inference that the university discriminated against [the student] on the basis of sex?" By adopting this approach, the court merely emphasized that the text of Title IX prohibits all discrimination on the basis of sex. The court clarified that inherent in this approach is a requirement that a Title IX plaintiff adequately plead causation—that is, a causal link between the student’s sex and the university’s challenged disciplinary proceeding. The court concluded that plaintiff's Title IX claim was properly dismissed where there is no plausible inference that plaintiff's gender was the but-for cause of his treatment under VSU's disciplinary proceedings. Likewise, plaintiff's equal protection claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 fails for largely the same reasons. In regard to plaintiff's due process claim under section 1983, the court concluded that the administrator is entitled to qualified immunity because there was no clearly established right to continued enrollment in higher education. View "Sheppard v. Visitors of Virginia State University" on Justia Law

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Appellant filed suit on behalf of herself and her minor child, alleging that Principal Foster infringed on the child's First Amendment right to free speech when Foster determined that the child's fourth grade essay regarding the topic of LGBTQ equality was not age-appropriate and should not be included in the class's essay booklet.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that Foster's conduct was a proper exercise of the authority possessed by school officials to regulate school-sponsored student speech, and affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The court explained that the allegations underlying appellant's amended complaint, even if true, do not substantiate a violation of the child's constitutional rights. Applying Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988), the court concluded that Foster's regulation of the child's speech was reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns because Foster's refusal to include the child's essay in the fourth grade class's essay booklet was actuated at least in part by her concern that the essay's topic was "not age-appropriate" for fourth graders. Furthermore, even assuming, without deciding, that school officials' restrictions on school-sponsored student speech must be viewpoint neutral, the court concluded that appellant has not plausibly alleged that Foster's restriction on the child's speech violated that principle. Finally, although the district court did not comply with procedural requirements before sua sponte dismissing appellant's constitutional claim against the school district, the court concluded that the district court's failure to give appellant these procedural protections does not necessitate reversal because she was not prejudiced by the result. In this case, appellant cannot plausibly demonstrate that a constitutional violation occurred. View "Robertson v. Anderson Mill Elementary School" on Justia Law

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Benjamin was hired as headmaster at the k-12, non-denominational, faith-based Epiphany School. Epiphany community members “evaluated Benjamin on various criteria[,] including ‘Christian Tradition.’” Benjamin, who describes himself as a Quaker of Jewish ethnicity, alleges that he was told by a board member that Epiphany community members did not see him as a “true Christian.” Benjamin’s time at Epiphany was marked by conflicts with students, parents, faculty, and staff. According to Defendants, Benjamin was hostile, inattentive to deadlines, and frequently absent from school events. According to Benjamin, the conflicts were driven by hostility toward his Jewish background, Quaker faith, and efforts to promote diversity. The Board held a forum at which Benjamin gave a speech explaining his religious beliefs. The parties disagree as to whether this speech was voluntary and as to whether Benjamin resigned or was terminated.Benjamin sued, alleging retaliation; discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, and disability; breach of contract, defamation, tortious interference with prospective economic relations; false imprisonment; assault; and violation of the North Carolina School Violence Prevention Act. The district court rejected some claims on summary judgment; a jury rejected the others. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, upholding rulings preventing Benjamin from introducing certain deposition testimony, implementing time limits for each side’s presentation of its case, admitting evidence about Benjamin’s misrepresentations regarding his prior employment, and declining to adopt Benjamin’s proposed jury instructions and verdict form for the breach of contract and defamation claims. View "Benjamin v. Sparks" on Justia Law