Friday, June 13, 2014

Tenured professor provided due process, 6th Circuit rules

A unanimous three-judge panel of the federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that a university professor was provided the due process he was entitled to under the U.S. Constitution, despite his claims to the contrary. In that case, the professor had been employed by the university's Political Science Department for a period of almost thirty years. At some point, as a result of a dispute between the professor and the university, the two parties entered into an agreement wherein the professor agreed to abide by certain expectations. The agreement further provided that the professor's compliance with the agreement would be adjudged by a panel of three faculty members; one faculty member was to be chosen by the Dean, one by the faculty chair, and one by the professor himself. Within a year of entering into the agreement, the professor was accused of violating the agreement. A three person faculty committee was then formed. After a 'hearing,' the professor was terminated. The professor instituted suit in the U.S. District Court, alleging violations of the 14th Amendment, including procedural and substantive due process. The district court refused, however, to find a violation and found against the professor. This holding was upheld today on appeal by the 6th Circuit. The case is McKenna v. Bowling Green State University, Case No. No. 13-4054.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lucas County Court of Appeals holds that charter school management company and employees not immune from liability

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Appellate District in Ohio has ruled that while a charter school itself is immune from most lawsuits as a political subdivision, a charter school's management company is not. In that case, a minor was injured at the school and sued the charter school management company, as well as an employee of that company. The management company alleged that it, like the charter school, was immune from liability as a political subdivision. The trial court ruled that the company was not immune from suit and the appeals court agreed. The case is Cunningham v. Star Academy of Toledo, 2014-Ohio-428.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear "I heart boobies" appeal.

The Supreme Court of the United States allowed a lower court decision to stand this week, upholding the right of students to wear "I ♥ Boobies" bracelets for breast cancer awareness. In that case, Pennsylvania middle school students had been suspended for wearing the breast cancer awareness bracelets. The school, citing the Supreme Court's 1986 decision in Bethel School District v. Fraser, believed that they had the ability to ban this speech as being lewd, vulgar, and inappropriate. The decision not to take the case is not a decision on the merits but may be instructive to public school students and administration alike to help further clarify what speech is and is not constitutionally permissible inside the schoolhouse gates.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Supreme Court of Ohio upholds teacher's firing for "his refusal to eliminate religious symbols from the classroom – excluding a Bible."

In the latest chapter in a several years long case, the Supreme Court of Ohio has determined that the firing of a teacher by the Mount Vernon City School District Board of Education was valid. The question before the Supreme Court was whether "whether the evidence was sufficient to demonstrate that [the district] terminated [the teacher] for insubordination in refusing to remove religious displays in his classroom after being told to do so, and for continuing to inject his personal religious beliefs into his plan and pattern of instruction, thereby exceeding the bounds of the school district’s bylaws and policies, even after being forbidden to do so." The school district alleged that the teacher injected his own Christian faith into his classroom as early as 1994 and continued to do so right up until he was relieved of his teaching duties and that after the district denied the teacher's 2003 teaching proposal to critically evaluate evolution, the teacher surreptitiously supplemented his eighth-grade science curriculum with, religious handouts, showed videos on creationism and intelligent design, displayed religious materials in his classroom, and made various statements in class referring to the Bible. Conversely, the teacher argued that argues that the board violated his right to academic freedom pursuant to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution when it terminated him based on the content or viewpoint of his curriculum-related academic discussions with students and his use of supplemental academic materials. Evaluating the claim in the context of only R.C. 3319.16, which governs the termination of teacher contracts in Ohio, the Court sided with the school district, finding "ample" evidence to terminate the teacher. The case is Freshwater v. Mt. Vernon City School Dist. Bd. of Edn., Slip Opinion No. 2013-Ohio-5000.

Monday, August 19, 2013

State university not liable for hockey puck injury, court of claims rules

Miami University is not liable for a woman's $200 deductible, the Ohio Court of Claims has ruled, in a case where she was injured by a flying hockey puck. The Court said that, “[t]here is no obligation on the part of the operator of a hockey game such as M.U. to protect a spectator against being hit by a flying puck ... Evidence has shown defendant did take measures by erecting glass and boards around the perimeter of the Ice Arena to provide some safety to spectators from errant pucks. Nevertheless, pucks do enter the stands; an inherent risk in the game of hockey, which is common, expected, and frequent,” the court said. “Consequently, plaintiff’s claim is denied since defendant owed her no duty to protect her from the known danger presented.” The court applied the legal doctrine of primary assumption of the risk. The woman had argued that because the injury occurred before the game began, this doctrine did not apply. The court ruled otherwise. The decision may be found here:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Supreme Court sides with STRS that instructors at a virtual learning academy were not "teachers" under Ohio law

In a split 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court of Ohio has sided with the State Teachers Retirement System that instructors at a "virtual learning academy," or VLA, are not teachers eligible to participate in STRS. A VLA is an "internet-based educational delivery system designed for K-12 students." In the case, Jefferson County Educational Service Center had partnered with an online school to provide education to public school students. The ESC withheld contributions from those teachers to pay STRS. However, STRS returned the money, stating that in its judgment, the instructors were not teachers within the meaning of the Ohio Rev. Code. Ultimately, the Supreme Court agreed.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Court clarifies standard for student cell phone search

In a case applicable to Ohio, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that school officials search of text messages on a student's cellphone was unreasonable and violated the student's rights under the Fourth Amendment. The case involved a student who had been seen by a teacher texting in class, a violation of school rules. The teacher turned the phone over to an assistant principal, who read the student's text messages on the phone. The assistant principal later testified that she knew of the student's prior discipline issues and was looking "to see if there was an issue with which I could help him so that he would not do something harmful to himself or someone else." The school, then, expelled the student, considering the cell phone violation the student's final chance in a series of disciplinary violations. The student and his family then sued the school in federal court, alleging, among other claims, a violation of the 4th Amendment. Relying on the 1985 Supreme Court case New Jersey v. T.L.O., the appeals court said "[a] search is justified at its inception if there is reasonable suspicion that a search will uncover evidence of further wrongdoing or of injury to the student or another." "Not all infractions involving cellphones will present such indications. Moreover, even assuming that a search of the phone were justified, the scope of the search must be tailored to the nature of the infraction and must be related to the objectives of the search." Further, "[u]nder our two-part test, using a cellphone on school grounds does not automatically trigger an essentially unlimited right enabling a school official to search any content stored on the phone that is not related either substantively or temporally to the infraction," the court held. "We disagree...that general background knowledge of drug abuse or depressive tendencies, without more, enables a school official to search a student's cell phone when a search would otherwise be unwarranted," Accordingly, going forward, it is unlikely that a student caught using his phone in class, without more, can legally have his phone searched by school officials.