Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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The case involves Charles and Lisa Kass, parents of Brody Kass, who sued the Western Dubuque Community School District (the District) alleging that the District violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other statutes when it developed Brody’s individualized education program (IEP) for the 2020–21 school year. Brody has epilepsy, autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, severe vision impairment, and intellectual disabilities. Despite Brody having enough credits to graduate, his IEP Team determined he had unmet transitional needs and should remain in school. The District proposed that Brody would not enroll in general education courses in the traditional classroom setting. Instead, Brody would spend a half-day focusing on developing his reading and math skills through individualized and practical training. The Kasses objected to the proposed IEP and filed a complaint with the Iowa Department of Education.The administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled in favor of the District on all claims, concluding the District did not violate Brody’s right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the 2018–19 or 2019–20 school years. The ALJ also determined neither the draft IEP nor its development violated any procedural or substantive provisions of the IDEA. The Kasses brought this action in federal district court, alleging violations of the IDEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act. The district court affirmed the ALJ’s decision on the IDEA claims and dismissed the other claims as subsumed under the IDEA claims.The United States Court of Appeals For the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that compensatory education may be available beyond a student’s twenty-first birthday. The court also concluded that the District complied with the IDEA’s procedural requirements in drafting the May 2020 IEP. The court found that the May 2020 IEP’s specific and measurable goals were reasonably calculated to enable Brody to progress in light of his circumstances, and thus met the IDEA’s requirements. View "Kass v. Western Dubuque Community School District" on Justia Law

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Four ninth-grade football players at Park Hill High School in Kansas City, Missouri, were suspended or expelled after one of them created an online petition titled "Start Slavery Again" and the others posted comments favoring the petition. They filed a lawsuit against the Park Hill School District and various school officials, claiming that their rights to equal protection and due process were violated.In their suit, the students argued that they were deprived of substantive and procedural due process in the disciplinary procedures. They also claimed that they were deprived of equal protection because another student, who they alleged was a willing participant in creating the petition, was not punished. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri granted summary judgment for the school district, dismissing all of the students' claims.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court found that the students received adequate notice and meaningful opportunity to present their case in the school disciplinary proceedings, satisfying the requirements of due process. The court further held that the disciplinary actions taken by the school district were not so egregious as to violate the students' substantive due process rights. Lastly, the court rejected the students' equal protection claim on the basis that the student who was not punished was not similarly situated to the plaintiffs given their greater involvement in creating and supporting the petition. View "Plaintiff A v. Park Hill School District" on Justia Law

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In this case, a minor student known as A.J.T., who suffers from epilepsy, sued her school district, Osseo Area Schools, alleging disability discrimination for not providing her evening instruction sessions. A.J.T.'s epilepsy is severe in the mornings, preventing her from attending school until noon. The child's parents requested evening instruction so that she could have a school day closer in length to her peers. However, the school district denied these requests.A.J.T., through her parents, filed a lawsuit alleging violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The district court granted Osseo Area Schools' motion for summary judgment, finding that the school district could not be held liable as it did not act with bad faith or gross misjudgment.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court stated that while A.J.T. might have established a genuine dispute about whether the district was negligent or even deliberately indifferent, she failed to prove that school officials acted with "either bad faith or gross misjudgment." The court found that the school district did not ignore A.J.T.'s needs or delay its efforts to address them. It further held that in cases involving educational services for disabled children, mere noncompliance with applicable federal statutes or failure to provide a reasonable accommodation is not enough to trigger liability. The plaintiff must prove that the school officials acted with bad faith or gross misjudgment. In this case, A.J.T. failed to identify conduct that cleared that high bar, and as such, the court held that summary judgment was proper. View "A.J.T. v. Osseo Area Schools, Independent School District No. 279" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit considered the appeal of Osseo Area Schools (the District) against the ruling of the district court, which held that the District had denied A.J.T., a student with a disability, a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A.J.T. suffers from a rare form of epilepsy, causing seizures that prevent her from attending school before noon. Consequently, her parents had requested the District to provide evening instruction, which was refused.The district court found that the District's refusal to provide A.J.T. with evening instruction resulted in her making de minimis progress overall and even regressing in some areas, such as toileting. The court also determined that A.J.T. would have made more progress had she received evening instruction. On these grounds, the court concluded that the District had failed to provide A.J.T. with a FAPE.On appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. The court rejected the District's argument that the IDEA's scope was limited to regular school hours, noting nothing in the IDEA suggested such a limitation. Furthermore, the court agreed with the district court's assessment of A.J.T.'s limited progress and regression in toileting. After considering the evidence, the court concluded that the District's refusal to provide evening instruction, based solely on administrative concerns, resulted in A.J.T.'s minimal progress and denied her a FAPE. View "Osseo Area Schools, Independent School District No. 279 v. A.J.T." on Justia Law

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In a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the plaintiffs, The Arc of Iowa and several parents of children with disabilities, sought to challenge a provision of the Iowa Code that prevents schools from imposing mask mandates unless required by other laws. They had received a preliminary injunction from a lower court that had been vacated by this court due to changing circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. On remand, the district court granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, declaring that the phrase 'other provisions of law' in the contested Iowa Code section includes Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and that the contested Iowa Code section cannot be cited as the sole basis for denying a student's request for reasonable modification or accommodation under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act that requires others to wear masks.The defendants, the Governor of Iowa and the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, appealed to the Eighth Circuit, raising issues of exhaustion of remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), standing of the plaintiffs, and the propriety and necessity of the relief granted by the district court.The appellate court, after de novo review, found that the plaintiffs failed to meet the requirements for standing, which include having suffered an injury in fact, traceability of the injury to the defendant's conduct, and the likelihood of redress by a favorable judicial decision. The court found that the general risks associated with COVID-19 were not enough to constitute "imminent and substantial" harm for standing. It also concluded that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated that the alleged injuries were fairly traceable to the conduct of the Governor or the Director of the Department of Education. As a result, the court vacated the district court's order and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss due to lack of standing. View "The Arc of Iowa v. Reynolds" on Justia Law

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Parents Defending Education, an association of parents, brought this action to challenge a policy adopted by the Linn Mar Community School District in Iowa. The disputed policy is entitled “Administrative Regulations Regarding Transgender and Students Nonconforming to Gender Role Stereotypes.” The policy sets forth regulations for the District that “address the needs of transgender students, gender-expansive students, nonbinary, gender nonconforming students, and students questioning their gender to ensure a safe, affirming, and healthy school environment where every student can learn effectively.” The parents who seek to participate in this case are anonymous; the pleadings identify them by a letter of the alphabet. The district court determined that Parents Defending failed to establish Article III standing because the organization did not show injury, causation, or redressability on its claims.   The Eighth Circuit dismissed the appeal in part as moot and reversed on one claim. The court concluded that at least Parent G has alleged an injury in fact sufficient to confer Article III standing. Parent G asserts that her son wants to “state his belief that biological sex is immutable.” Because of the policy, however, Parent G states that her son remains silent in school “when gender identity topics arise” to avoid violating the policy. This student’s proposed activity “concerns political speech” and is “arguably affected with a constitutional interest.” Thus, Parent G has standing to bring a claim challenging the policy based on the First Amendment. Therefore, Parents Defending has standing as an association to pursue the claim on behalf of a member. View "Parents Defending Education v. LinnMar Community School Dist., et al" on Justia Law

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Creighton Preparatory School expelled Plaintiff after he made lewd remarks about a teacher. Plaintiff sued Creighton under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 on the theory that the school had discriminated against him by failing to perform an “adequate and impartial investigation.” The district court granted Creighton’s motion to dismiss. It first dismissed the Title IX claim because Plaintiff had failed to “allege [that] his sex played any part in the disciplinary process at all.” Then, with the federal question gone, it declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s breach-of-contract claim.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiff does not allege that Creighton faced external pressure to punish male students, much less gave in by expelling him. The court reasoned that without an allegation of that kind, the complaint fails to plausibly allege the sort of “causal connection between the flawed outcome and gender bias” required to make an erroneous outcome theory work.Further, the court wrote that treating men and women differently can support an inference of sex discrimination, but it requires identifying a similarly situated member of the opposite sex who has been “treated more favorably.” For Plaintiff, he had to find “a female accused of sexual harassment” who received better treatment. There are no female students at Creighton, an all-boys school, let alone any who have faced sexual-misconduct allegations. The court explained that to the extent that Plaintiff argues that believing them over him raises an inference of discrimination, there is nothing alleged that the school did so because of his sex. View "Elijah Wells v. Creighton Preparatory School" on Justia Law

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The University of Iowa expelled graduate student John Doe after investigating two accusations of sexual misconduct brought against him by different complainants. The Iowa Board of Regents affirmed the decision. Doe sued the University and University officials, claiming, in part, discrimination on the basis of sex under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. Section 1681(a), and procedural due process violations, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. The district court granted qualified immunity to the University officials, dismissed the procedural due process claims against them, and granted the University summary judgment on the remaining claims.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that it is not convinced that institutional efforts to prevent sexual misconduct on campus, including educational programs that challenge students to evaluate the impact of gender norms on rape culture, amount to evidence of external pressure on the University that supports an inference of bias. The court held that Doe failed to provide “sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find that [the University] disciplined him on the basis of sex.” Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment on Doe’s Title IX claim. Further, the court explained that the University provided adequate notice of the charges. Therefore, the court wrote that because Doe failed to show the University officials’ conduct violated his federal rights, it affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Doe’s claims against the University officials. View "John Doe v. University of Iowa" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs placed their child AMS at a private academy after the Chamberlain School District did not meet AMS’s needs. A state hearing examiner decided that Chamberlain violated federal law and awarded Plaintiffs costs associated with AMS’s placement at the academy. The district court affirmed.  The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Chamberlain argued that Plaintiffs weren’t eligible to remove the case from state court to federal court because they weren’t “defendants” under 28 U.S.C. Section 1441(a). The court explained that while Plaintiffs initially sought to recover from Chamberlain, their status changed when Chamberlain sought the state court’s review of the hearing examiner’s decision. At that point, Chamberlain became the plaintiff for removal purposes. Thus, because Plaintiffs were defendants, they were allowed to remove, so the district court didn’t err in denying remand. Further, the court explained that giving due weight to the outcome of the administrative proceedings, it concludes that Chamberlain denied AMS a FAPE. View "Judith Steckelberg v. Chamberlain School District" on Justia Law

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This case started more than fifty years ago when Minnie Liddell sued to desegregate the St. Louis public school system. The NAACP joined the lawsuit, and the State of Missouri (among others) became a defendant. The parties struck a deal that lasted until 1999 when they agreed to end Missouri’s remedial obligations. The Missouri Legislature ratified the parties’ settlement agreement and created a charter-school option. A group of charter schools complained to the Missouri Legislature, which altered the funding formula in 2006. The revised formula, part of Senate Bill 287, is what has led to the current dispute. The St. Louis Public School District and one of the plaintiffs asked the district court to enforce the settlement agreement by having Missouri reimburse it for the special-sales-tax revenue it had lost under the new funding formula. The district court sided with Missouri, and both sides appealed. Plaintiffs continued to believe that the St. Louis Public School District should receive all the special-sales-tax revenue. And Missouri argued that the desegregation-spending condition finds no support in the settlement agreement.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment but vacated the part requiring charter schools to spend those funds on “desegregation measures.” The court explained that there has been no “disproportionate adverse financial impact” on the St. Louis Public School District because it never had a right to keep all the special-sales-tax revenue for itself. Moreover, the court rejected the argument that allowing charter schools to spend their money as they see fit is inconsistent with the “purpose” of the settlement agreement. View "Deric Liddell v. State of Missouri" on Justia Law