COULD THE SCHOOL DISTRICT BAR A STUDENT TRANSFER?
Case citation: Fails v. Jefferson Davis County Public Schools, Fed. Appx. , 2014 WL 128631 (5th Cir. 2014) (unpublished).
Summary: Courtney Fails lived in the Jefferson Davis County School District, but attended school for a number of years in the Lamar County School District, until the Jefferson County School District implemented a new student transfer policy. Under the policy, students could not transfer to schools outside of the district. The family asked the Jefferson County School Board to consider whether Courtney’s transfer would be revoked by the new policy. The board attempted to vote on the issue but was stopped by the district’s conservator, Glenn Swan. Ultimately, the district did not approve the transfer.
The Failses sued Swan and the school district under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1981, alleging procedural and substantive due process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment. The parents claimed that the district and Swan violated their constitutionally protected interest in choosing what school their daughter would attend. They also alleged that the defendants violated procedural due process by depriving them of a fair hearing before the board. The trial court granted a pretrial judgment in favor of Swan and the district and the Failses appealed.
Ruling: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendants. The Fifth Circuit observed that a substantive due process claim must be based on a constitution- ally protected interest in life, liberty, or property. The parents claimed that the they had a liberty interest that would allow them to continue enrolling their daughter in a school outside of their district. Parents have a liberty interest in directing “the upbringing and education of children under their control.” Ac- cording to the Fifth Circuit, however, the Failses provided no legal support for their position that parents could enroll a child in the public school of their specific unilateral choosing. The Fifth Circuit previously held that states have a compelling interest in tying a student’s domicile to the district in which he attends public schools. Further, a “schoolchild has no inalienable right to choose his school.”
The Failses next argued that Mississippi law granted them a right to the transfer. The state statute allowed students to transfer, “by the mutual consent of the school boards of all school districts concerned.” The Fifth Circuit concluded that the statute was discretionary and did not create a constitutionally protected property right enforceable by § 1983. A violation of state law, without more, cannot serve as the basis for a § 1983 claim. Thus, because the Failses did not raise a federal constitutional violation, there was no basis for their § 1983 suit. The Fifth Circuit upheld the judgment in favor of Swan and the school district.
Comments: The U.S. Supreme Court held long ago that parents do have a right to educate their child in a public school, but as this case notes, that right does not extend to the selection of a specific public school.
DID THE DISTRICT APPLY THE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION TRANSFER RULE IN A DISCRIMINATORY MANNER?
Case citation: Chatman v. Mississippi High School Athletics Association, Fed. Appx. , 2014 WL 129615 (5th Cir. 2014) (unpublished).
Summary: Eric Chatman, Jr. was a student athlete who transferred from one Mississippi school district to another. Under rules of the Mississippi High School Athletics Association, a transferring student who does not make a bona fide change in residence must sit out one year of athletic eligibility at his new school. Following Chatman’s transfer, the athletic association determined that he was ineligible to play sports at the new school. Chatman filed suit under the Equal Protection Clause and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, alleging racial discrimination in the application of the athletic association’s transfer rule. The district and the athletic association sought judgment in their favor prior to trial on the claims. Finding no evidence of discriminatory intent in the application of the rules, the trial court granted judgment in favor of the athletic association and the school district. Chat- man appealed the trial court ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ruling: The Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment in favor of the district and the athletic association. On appeal, Chatman did not dispute that he was ineligible to play sports under the transfer rules. Instead, he argued that the athletic association and school district investigated and treated the eligibility of white students differently from black students. He claimed that several white students were permitted to participate in athletics after transfers even though they did not make a bona fide move.
The appeals court ultimately concluded that Chatman did not demonstrate discriminatory intent on the part of the district in its handling of the eligibility determination. The record was undisputed that the defendants were unaware of Chatman’s race at the time of the eligibility determination. There was no showing that the white students who were allegedly deemed eligible were similarly situated to Chatman. Other than Chatman and his mother’s conclusory testimony, there was no showing that the white students were ineligible under the rules, similar to Chatman. The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of Chatman’s discrimination suit.
WERE THE GENDER DISCRIMINATION ALLEGATIONS SUFFICIENT TO STATE TITLE IX CLAIMS?
Case citation: McCully v. Stephenville ISD, 2014 WL 292147 (N.D. Tex. 2014) (unpublished).
Summary: C. McCully and M. McCully were sisters who attended school at Henderson Junior High in the Stephenville Independent School District. After filing grievances, complaining about gender discrimination in the district’s athletics program, the girls’ father, Kevin McCully, filed suit against the school district claiming violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the U.S. Constitution, and state law. The suit alleged in general that the female athletes at the junior high had fewer opportunities to participate in sports than boys and inferior benefits when they did participate, such as non-traditional seasons, fewer coaches, inferior coaches, inadequate practice facilities, discriminatory practice times and schedules, inadequate publicity, different recruitment for girls, and inadequate surveys of girls to determine their interests, among other things. In response, the district sought dismissal of the lawsuit.
Ruling: The trial court dismissed the case, in part. The trial court observed that alleged violations of Title IX in the area of athletics are often divided into “effective accommodation” claims and “equal treatment” claims. Effective accommodation claims are related to whether “the selection of sports and levels of competition effectively accommodate the interests and abili- ties of members of both sexes.” Equal treatment claims relate to regulations requiring the equal provision of athletic scholarships, as well as equal provision of other athletic benefits and opportunities among the sexes.
The trial court dismissed the McCully’s effective accommodation claim, holding that the family lacked standing. To establish standing under Title IX effective accommodation claims, the students had to demonstrate that they were “able and ready” to compete for a position on the particular unfielded team. In this case, the McCully sisters failed to make such a showing. They pointed to no sport or activity for which they were “able and ready” to compete, but which was unavailable to them. In fact, they offered no factual allegations regarding the availability of any athletic opportunities at the junior high. Thus, they did not have standing to assert a claim for effective accommodation under Title IX.
The trial court, however, let the McCullys proceed on their “unequal treatment” claim. To state such a claim, the McCullys had to allege that the district intended to treat women differently on the basis of their sex by providing them unequal athletic opportunity. According to the trial court, the suit stated sufficient facts to support a claim for unequal treatment under Title IX. The McCullys alleged that the district had denied girls equal athletic opportunities because of “paternalism, stereotypical assumptions about girls’ interests and abilities, and their outdated views of women.” They also claimed that the inequalities between the girls’ and boys’ athletics programs at the junior high were due to differences in gender. The court stated that “although [it] does have some reservations about whether plaintiffs have adequately pleaded a claim for unequal treatment under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the court finds that such claim should be allowed to proceed and Stephenville ISD’s motion to dismiss should be denied as to that claim.” The trial court dismissed all claims, except the Title IX unequal treatment cause of action.
DID THE STUDENT STATE VIOLATIONS OF HIS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS?
Case citation: Garcia v. City of McAllen, 2013 WL 6589426 (S.D. Tex. 2013) (unpublished).
Summary: Sylvia Garcia was a parent of a student in the McAllen Independent School District who filed suit against the City of McAllen and the school district, alleging causes of action arising from three separate episodes. In the first episode, Garcia alleged that the district failed to update her son’s annual Individualized Education Program (IEP) pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This failure allegedly deprived her son’s teachers of the opportunity to be aware of a doctor’s diagnosis given the previous summer. Subsequently, Garcia’s son was involved in a dispute with a teacher. The district responded by transferring the boy to “an inferior school.” Despite repeated requests from Garcia, the district allegedly refused to hold a manifestation determination review prior to the transfer. Garcia claims the district’s actions in this regard violated the Fourteenth Amendment, § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the IDEA.
In the second episode, Garcia alleged that a gym teacher harassed her son until he experienced an anxiety attack, which gave him the appearance of being under the influence of alcoholic or narcotic substances. School officials asked him to submit to a drug test and suspended him for three days upon his refusal. Plaintiff claims the district’s actions violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
The third issue involved an incident in which Garcia’s son was approached by a school counselor, who called the City of McAllen Police Department. The McAllen police arrested her son and sought to have him committed to a Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center (MHMR). Garcia claimed the school counselor instigated the arrest in retaliation for Garcia filing this lawsuit. She claims violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. In response, the district sought dismissal of the lawsuit.
Ruling: The trial court dismissed the claims that could have been brought under the IDEA, but let Garcia proceed on claims related to her son’s suspension and arrest. The trial court observed that when § 504 and § 1983 allegations overlap with the IDEA and the wrongs alleged could have been addressed by the IDEA, the plaintiffs must exhaust IDEA’s administrative remedies before filing suit. In this case, Garcia’s claims that the district did not update the student’s IEP, did not provide him with a stay-put placement, or hold a manifestation determination review before his suspension all fell within the protections of the IDEA. Thus, the trial court dismissed those claims until Garcia exhausted administrative remedies.
The trial court allowed Garcia to proceed on the incident involving his arrest. According to the trial court, the arrest was not a method of educational discipline and none of the damages or remedies sought were available under the IDEA. Thus, the claims stemming from the student’s arrest following his visit with the guidance counselor were not subject to dismissal.