DID THE COMMISSIONER HAVE JURISDICTION OVER THE RETALIATION AND PERSONAL INJURY CLAIMS?
Case citation: Child v. Blum ISD, Dkt. No. 030-R10-12-2013 (Comm’r Educ. August 15, 2014).
Summary: In July of 2013, the parents of a student in the Blum Independent School District filed a grievance with the district, alleging that the student was injured while attending the district’s summer athletic program. The parents requested that the student not be allowed to perform a certain exercise and requested compensation for the student’s medical bills, attorney’s fees, and pain and suffering. At Level I, the principal granted the grievance with respect to the exercises required of the student but denied all monetary relief requested. The principal noted, however, that all students in the athletics program were required to run a mile in eleven minutes or less and that that requirement would not be waived. The parents appealed to Level II. They claimed that the student had been bullied by employees and requested their termination. The Level I decision was upheld at Level II. At Level III, the parents alleged that the student was unfairly removed from the athletics program. The board of trustees ultimately voted to take no action on the parents’ grievance. The parents then filed an appeal with the Commissioner of Education and the district sought dismissal of the matter, arguing that the Commissioner did not have jurisdiction and the claims were moot.
Ruling: While the Commissioner had jurisdiction over the parents’ retaliation claims, the claims were moot and there was no jurisdiction over the personal injury claims or the request to have certain district employees terminated. The Commissioner observed that a parent can bring a retaliation claim against a school district under Texas Education Code, Chapter 26, “under the reasoning that if parents cannot exercise their rights to file grievances without retaliation, the district is not treating the parent as a partner as required by Chapter 26.” Thus, the Commissioner had jurisdiction over the retaliation claim. However, the claims were moot because the student no longer attended school in the district. According to the Commissioner, because the student was not enrolled in the district, any ruling would have no practical legal impact. The Commissioner also did not have the authority to grant the relief requested – the termination of certain district employees and monetary damages.
The Commissioner dismissed the case for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and because the claims were moot. Furthermore, contrary to the parents’ contentions, Texas Education Code Chapter 28 does not require school districts to insure themselves against student injuries that occur during athletics, and does not create a cause of action for parents seeking to recover medical costs for such injuries. The Commissioner dismissed the parents’ appeal.
Comments: The takeaway from this case is that parents can raise claims before the Commissioner that the district retaliated against them or their child for filing a grievance. That issue did not proceed only because the student was no longer enrolled in the district, making the claims moot.
DID THE COMMISSIONER APPEAL STATE VIABLE CLAIMS STEMMING FROM A STUDENT’S LOW GRADE?
Case citation: Child v. Arlington ISD, Dkt. No. 060-R10-07-2013 (Comm’r Educ. September 29, 2014).
Summary: The parent of a student in the Arlington Independent School District filed an appeal to the Commissioner, claiming that the district failed to provide them with certain educational records and that the student received an improper grade. According to the parents, the student received a grade of zero on an assignment that required the teacher to do a binder check. It was disputed whether the student had all of the necessary papers in the binder at the time. The teacher eventually raised the grade to a forty. The parents complained and ultimately filed an appeal with the Commissioner of Education, arguing that the district violated Texas Education Code §§ 26.004, 26.006, 28.0214, and 28.0216.
Ruling: The Commissioner ruled in favor of the district on each of the parent’s claims. The main issues on appeal were whether the district provided the parent documents and information concerning the student and whether jurisdiction existed over the grading decision. Texas Education Code § 28.0214(b) allows a school board to change a teacher’s grade if it determines that the grade is arbitrary, erroneous, or not consistent with the district’s grading policy. However, a board’s decision about grades is not subject to appeal, except for a situation that was not applicable in this case. The Commissioner, therefore, did not have jurisdiction over the claim that the district’s school board improperly determined the student’s grade.
Texas Education Code § 28.0216 requires school districts to adopt particular grading policies. This provision is violated when a school board does not adopt the required grading policy. Here, because the parent did not demonstrate that the board failed to adopt grading policies, the parent did not state a viable claim under § 28.0216. Under Texas Education Code § 26.004, a parent is granted broad access to a school district’s records concerning their child. In the present case, the record did not support a claim that the district withheld any documents concerning the student from the parent. Texas Education Code § 26.006 grants parent access to teaching materials used in the student’s classroom. However, the record also did not support a claim that the district withheld teaching materials from the parent. The parents’ appeal stemming from the student’s low grade was without merit.