Recent Court and Agency Decisions
N.C. v. Kentucky, No. 2011-SC-000271 (Ky. Apr. 25, 2013).
The following case is from Kentucky. It is not binding in Illinois. However, its facts and the ruling may be of interest to school officials.
In a 4-3 split, the Kentucky supreme court ruled that a high school student was “in custody” when he was detained in the school office for questioning by an assistant principal. The assistant principal’s questioning occurred in the presence of a school resource officer (SRO). The questioning was about giving prescription drugs to a classmate. The court ruled that the student was entitled to “Miranda warnings” before the school official began the questioning. The court held “that any incriminating statements elicited under the circumstances of this case, with a school official working with the police on a case involving a criminal offense, the police failing to give Miranda warnings, and the juvenile being in custody, are subject to suppression under the Unified Juvenile Code (a Kentucky state law) and the Fifth Amendment.” As a result of this conclusion, the Kentucky supreme court ordered that any statements made by the students must be suppressed (not used) during any hearings on the case.
The opinion, set to be published soon, is available online at: http://opinions.kycourts.net/sc/2011-SC-000271-DG.pdf
Posted date: 5/6/2013
Willful and wanton negligence
Leja v. Community Unit School District 300, 2-12-0156 (Ill. App. Ct. 2012).
Plaintiff, a student of a high school owned and operated by Community Unit School District 300, was allegedly injured when a volleyball net crank she was turning either broke loose or snapped back and struck her in the face. The Plaintiff alleged that the School District was negligent and engaged in willful and wanton conduct.
The Court dismissed the negligence claim based on section 2-619(a)(9) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(9) (West 2008)) after determining that defendant was immune from liability for negligence under section 3-106 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Act) (745 ILCS 10/3-106 (West 2008)). The court then dismissed count II pursuant to section 2-615 of the Code (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 2008)). The trial court also dismissed the willful and wanton conduct charge based on the same section and that the plaintiff failed to properly allege sufficient facts for the pleadings.
The Plaintiff appealed on the willful and wanton conduct charge alone. Plaintiff argued that the warning label on the volleyball net crank was sufficient to put the School District on notice that the crank posed a risk of injury and instructing the Plaintiff to operate the crank showed an indifference for the Plaintiff’s safety. Plaintiff failed to allege facts that the District was on notice of the risk of injury, regardless of the warning label and the failure to direct Plaintiff to instructions or warning label did not constitute willful and wanton conduct. The court found in favor of the School District.
Posted date: 04/15/2013
Title IX Liability - teacher misconduct
McCoy v. Bd. of Educ., Columbus City Sch., No. 12-3040 (6th Cir. Feb 13, 2013).
The following case is from Ohio. It is not binding in Illinois. However, its facts and the ruling may be of interest to school officials. The Columbus City Schools (CCS) employed Gary Stroup as an elementary school teacher. During his tenure, he was accused on numerous occasions of inappropriately touching students. These incidents were investigated and found nothing of a sexual nature. In 2005, a student and John Doe (Plaintiff) claimed to have been touched by Stroup. Doe claims that he had been touched on at least 5 occasions and that one incident involved Stroup placing his hand down Doe’s pants and fondling Doe.
Doe’s parents, the McCoys, filed suit on his behalf against CCS, the school board and other school officials. The McCoys claimed a violation of Title IX and Section 1983 liability based on due process. To succeed on a Title IX case, the McCoys had to show that the school officials had actual notice of the harassment and that the school acted with deliberate indifference. Deliberate indifference is where school officials are aware of the misconduct and do nothing to stop it despite their control over the situation.
The court found that the McCoys had failed to prove deliberate indifference. The school had acted reasonably because it sent letters to Stroup directing him to not engage in physical contact with the students. The harassment alleged was not explicit enough to constitute deliberate indifference. To establish liability on a theory of inaction, the McCoys had to establish (1) the existence of a clear and persistent pattern of sexual abuse by school employees; (2) notice to the school board; (3) the school board’s tacit approval of the unconstitutional conduct, amounting to an official policy of inaction, and (4) that the school board’s custom was the direct causal link in the deprivation. The court found that CCS did not have notice and did not act with deliberate indifference to be held liable under Section 1983.
The decision of the district court was affirmed.
Posted date: 3/1/2013
Rachel Prezek, IASB Law Clerk
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Zeno v. Pine Plains Central School District, 702 F.3d 655 (2nd Cir., 12-3-12).
The following case is from the Second Circuit. It is not binding in Illinois. However, its facts and the ruling may be of interest to school officials. Anthony Zeno (Zeno) was a student at Stissing Mountain High School (SMHS) in Pine Plains, NY. SMHS was a racially homogenous school and Zeno is half-Latino half-Caucasian. During his freshman year at SMHS, students began threatening, bullying, and physically abusing Zeno because of his race. This abuse continued for three and a half years. Mrs. Zeno, Anthony’s mother, first voiced her concerns to the principal of SMHS.
The principal punished the students involved. Mrs. Zeno was not successfully getting the superintendent to act. Mrs. Zeno then contacted an attorney who spoke with officials from the school district. Their response was organizing an optional program for students about racial sensitivity. The harassment continued through Zeno’s junior and senior years but the reports declined because the Zeno family felt the school had no interest in stopping the behavior. At the beginning of Zeno’s senior year, it was realized that he did not have enough credits to graduate that year. Zeno’s options were to continue at the school or receive an IEP diploma. The harassment at the school was intolerable and Zeno was forced to take the IEP diploma that is not recognized by the military, some community colleges or four-year institutions.
Zeno then brought legal action against the district alleging discrimination under Title VI. After a jury trial verdict in his favor, Zeno was ultimately awarded damages in the amount of $1 million. The school district appealed, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Zeno’s verdict and damage award. Here, the school district was liable because: (1) the individual punishment of the students had no deterring effect; (2) the harassment became increasingly severe; (3) the school officials knew that the harassment was based on race and did not adequately respond to it; and (4) the school district refused offers of help by agencies that provided sensitivity training to help the school district stop the harassment. The verdict in the Zeno’s favor, along with the damages was upheld.
This case underscores that school officials must respond to and provide “effective” solutions to complaints about harassment based upon protected categories such as race, and if complaints continue, school officials should involve the school board’s attorney.
Posted date: 2/5/2013
Hodges v. Valley View Community Unit School District 356U, Case No. 11 C 8418 (N.D. Ill. 12/21/2012).
In November 2009, Plaintiff moved from Romeoville High School (RHS) to Bolingbrook High School (BHS), which are both in the Valley View Community School District (School District). Plaintiff is a star basketball player. He alleges that he was forced to switch schools because of the conduct of staff members who falsely accused him of residency violations, spread false rumors about him, sabotaged meetings with college recruiters and harassed him for leaving the RHS basketball team. The School District asked the trial court to dismiss the Plaintiff’s case.
The court dismissed all but one of the Plaintiff’s claims: a “class of one” claim under the equal protection clause of the federal constitution. This claim alleged that the School District treated the Plaintiff differently from others who were similar to him. Districts cannot treat one student differently without a “rational basis,” i.e., a very good reason that is limited to the specific set of facts. The Plaintiff alleged that other students moved between schools within the School District during the school year, but that only he was harassed to continue attending RHS. The court held that the Plaintiff alleged enough information to go forward with this type of a claim - even though he did not identify any other particular student who had moved, like him, and was treated differently.
Of other interest to school boards is the court’s dismissal of one of the Plaintiff’s claims that the Valley View School Board violated equal protection laws and was liable for the Superintendent’s actions, specifically discrimination. The court explained that to hold the School Board liable for the Superintendent’s actions, the Plaintiff needed to show that the Superintendent had “final policymaking authority.” Here in Illinois, residency laws give school boards this “final policymaking authority.” Because of this, the court dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim that the School Board violated equal protection laws through the Superintendent’s actions.
Posted date: 2/5/2013
Slade v. Bd. of School Directors of City of Milwaukee, No. 12-2425 (December 27,2012) E.D. Wisc.
Kamonie Slade (Kamonie), a seventh grader, was on a field trip to a local Wisconsin lake with his class and drowned. The suit is based on 42 U.S.C. §1983 and claims that the school deprived Kamonie of his life in violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. The district judge ruled in favor of the school, which was appealed.
The seventh grade teacher planned a trip to Mauthe Lake as a graduation celebration for the students. The students were invited and not required to go on the trip. All of the children who wished to attend had to have a signed permission slip from a parent or guardian. The rules of the Milwaukee Public School District, however, require that swimming field trips have a lifeguard present. A lifeguard was not present at Mauthe Lake.
A state does not deprive a person of his life in violation of the 14th Amendment by merely failing to prevent his dying, but the state does violate it if the death was caused by the “reckless act” of an employee of the state acting within the scope of employment. “Recklessness” includes enticement, deliberate indifference or blindness to obvious dangers.
Kamonie was not enticed to the lake because enticement is a deliberate act and there is no evidence of any such act. The school officials were neither indifferent nor blind to the dangers of a swimming trip. Kamonie was not ordered to go on the trip or to enter the water. The school only planned and led the field trip that exposed him to the danger. The act of the seventh grade teacher who took the class to the unpatrolled lake was negligent and not reckless. The teacher’s negligence enhanced the risk to Kamonie, but it was not a basis for liability in a due process case. The ruling was affirmed in favor of the school.
Posted date: 1/17/2013
Rachel Prezek, IASB Law Clerk
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