Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Supreme Court accepts case that pits university, Christian group over admission of gay students

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide whether a state-funded university violates the United States Constitution by requiring student groups to be open to all.

The lawsuit was filed by the Christian Legal Society after the student group refused to admit gay and lesbian students at the University of California at Hastings School of Law. The law school, citing a policy that all student groups have to be open to all students, said that the group would lose its status as an official student group. The group also forbids membership to others not following its biblical interpretation.

Although the dispute arose in the law school context, the decision could have much further reaching implications.

Similar disputes have been going on across the country for the last decade. The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law faced a similar dispute in Fall 2003. Rather than wait for a court ruling, the administration voluntarily changed its policy to exempt religious organizations from the rules that require groups to be open to all students.

The appeal from the Supreme Court was from a decision upholding the actions of the law school.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court rejects two school law appeals

In two separate cases, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals dealing with constitutional school law questions.

The first case involved an appeal from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals from Henderson, Nevada. In that case, high school officials turned off the student's microphone during her graduation speech because it was religion-tinged. The justices denial of the case means that the appeals court opinion, with no liability on the part of the school officials, stands.

The second case involved an appeal from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In that case, the ACLU of Florida had sought review of a school board's decision to remove the book "A Visit to Cuba." Parents of school children, as well as the ACLU, sued the district, alleging violations of the First Amendment. The District Court granted the parent's request. However, the court of appeals found that the school board had not acted because it disliked the ideas in the book, but because the book contained factual inaccuracies, something a school board is allowed to act on. The ACLU requested the Supreme Court reviewed the decision; however, the Supreme Court allowed the decision of the 11th Circuit to stand.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Federal Appeals Court sides with school board in First Amendment dispute

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit this morning sided with a school board in a dispute between parents of student football players on one side and the school district and football coach on the other.

In Lowery v. Jefferson County Board of Education, the high school football coach dismissed the plaintiffs' children from the team for questioning his leadership. The parents of the students made appeals to various school officials. Unsatisfied, the parents requested to speak to the board of education about the incident. In particular, one of the parents asked the board to speak at the next board meeting.

The Board of Education had a policy allowing individual members of the public to address the board for up five minutes so long as the address was not frivolous, harassing, or repetitive.

The Board granted the request of the parent. An attorney representing the parents addressed the board and apparently criticized Board staff and threatened legal action, among other things. The parents' request was still not granted.

Undeterred, the parents requested another meeting with the board of education. This time, the Board denied the request--finding it to be repetitive and harassing.

The parents sued, claiming that the district, acting under color of state law, deprived the students and the parents of their First Amendment rights by dismissing the students from the team and for refusing to allow the parents to speak at the second Board meeting.

The District Court found the Board not liable, and ordered the parents to pay the Board's attorney fees. The parents appealed.

The appellate court upheld the District Court, holding that the school board meeting was a limited public forum and that the Board's denial of the parent's opportunity to speak at second Board meeting was a time, place and manner
manner restriction that was content-neutral, narrowly tailored to serve a
significant governmental interest, left open ample alternative channels for
communication of the information.

The appeals court did, however, reverse the award of attorney fees to the Board, finding that this case did not warrant such an award.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Columbus Dispatch article highlights ODE's notification system

The Columbus Dispatch ran a story today about the Ohio Department of Education's new system that scours Ohio arrest reports for licensed educators. The article is located at http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2009/10/21/teacherarrests.ART_ART_10-21-09_A1_S2FEB0D.html?sid=101

The system, in place since August of this year, sends a notification to the Ohio Department of Education who, in turn, notifies the educator's school district that there has been an arrest.

The article does not go into detail regarding the accuracy of the system or if any educators have been falsely flagged as offenders by the new system. Similarly, it does not go into any detail about whether licensed educators have been charged with crimes that the system did not pick up.

Pursuant to Ohio Revised Code 3319.31, ODE can among other things, suspend, limit, or revoke licenses for criminal offenses listed in that statute or for "conduct unbecoming" of the teaching profession. Educators who have been arrested for any crime, even those not specifically listed in the statute, should contact an attorney familiar with school and education law in order to assess the situation and whether further action is needed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Supreme Court rules that questions in semester examinations are not public records

The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled last week that the questions used in semester examinations administered to all ninth-grade students in the Cincinnati Public School District are not “public records” subject to disclosure under the state’s Public Records Act because they fall within a statutory exception for trade secrets. The Court’s 5-2 majority decision was authored by Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger

Friday, September 11, 2009

Charter Schools win case brought by Attorney General

In a case that vetted public school organizations such as the Ohio Educational Association, the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators against those like National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the charter schools win, at least for now.

In a decision by the Second District Court of Appeals, the appeals court upheld a decision by the trial court finding that charter schools are political subdivisions, rather than charitable trusts. The case arose when then Attorney General Nancy Rogers attempted to use her regulatory powers over charitable trusts against an allegedly failing charter school. The charter school alleged that, because it was a political subdivision and not a charitable trust, the Attorney General could not regulate it.

The trial court agreed, as did the appeals court.

The case can be found at http://www.sconet.state.oh.us/rod/docs/pdf/2/2009/2009-ohio-4608.pdf

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reverses trial court on school custodian's firing

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed last week a decision of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio regarding the placement of a school custodian on involuntary leave in the Valley View School District. The school custodian claimed that the school district violated the Family and Medical Leave Act when it placed her on leave due to her taking leaves of absence after a car accident, on the advice of her physician.

The superintendent admitted that the school had used the custodian's leaves of absence as a factor against her in placing her on leave. The court reiterated that an employer is prohibited from “us[ing] the taking of FMLA leave as a negative factor in employment actions.” Thus, the Court found that the lower court was incorrect in its finding for the school district.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has appellate jurisdiction over district courts in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Michigan.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Court of Appeals sides with teacher, against school district, in termination case

The case involved a teacher with several years of teaching experience. For a senior class project in his sociology class, the teacher required students to make a 20 year class reunion prediction regarding other students in the class. The results were to be read out loud in class, aftering being reviewed for appropriateness. However, after some students complained that some predictions were embarassing, the Board suspended the teacher.

The teacher exercised his constitutional right to a hearing under R.C. 3319.16 before a referee. After a two day hearing, the hearing officer recommended that the teacher be reprimanded, but not terminated. The School Board rejected the hearing officer's determination. The Court of Common Pleas reversed the decision of the school board and reinstated the teacher, finding that the Board's decision was not
supported by the weight of the evidence. The Court of Appeals also sided with the teacher. In making its decisions, both courts reviewed several factors, including the fact that the teacher had been described as outstanding, had done this very assignment for 12 years, and never had other incidents, and had a minor disciplinary record.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Court of Appeals sides with School District in public records dispute

The Ninth District Court of Appeals for Ohio sided today with a school district today in a public records dispute.

The case, State ex rel. Johnson v. Oberlin City School Dist. Bd. of Edn., 2009-Ohio-3526, stems from a denial of a public records request to the Oberlin School District Board of Education. The bylaws and policies of the Oberlin City School District provide that each year, the school board must evaluate the Superintendent and provide teh Superintendent with a written copy of the evaluation. The board then relies upon the evaluation in determining whether or not to renew the Superintendent's contract.

This process requires individual board members to evaluate the Superintendent and then give their results on the Board President, who uses the evaluations to compile the Superintendent’s composite evaluation. In her public records request, Johnson requested the evaluations submitted by the individual members of the Board. Johnson’s request was denied on the basis that individual evaluations are not public records as defined by R.C. 149.43.

The court affirmed the decision of the trial court, finding that only the final evaluation is a public record under R.C. 149.43.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Court of Appeals upholds trial court's narrow interpretation of "salary" in R.C. 3319.12 for teacher with continuing contract

The Twelfth District Court of Appeals held today that a school board does not violate R.C. 3319.12 when it fails to pay a continuing contract teacher the entire amount her contract requires when that teacher does not work the amount of days required in the contract.

At issue in the case was Carla A. Varasso, an art teacher with a continuing contract. That contract required her to work 183 days of the year
for an annual salary of $56,422.16, or $308.32 per day. However, in May 2004, Ms. Varasso was severely injured in an accident that left her unable to teach again until Fall 2005. By the time she returned, she had missed 58 days of the school year, only nine of which had been covered by sick leave.

Thus, Ms. Varasso had her compensation reduced for the time that she was off of work without sick leave. She thus filed suit, alleging a violation of R.C. 3319.12 which prohibits reducing teacher's salaries from the amount that they made the year before, unless the reduction is part of a uniform plan adopted by the school district.

The 12th District found that "salary" meant "rate of pay" and as long as the teacher was paid the same rate of pay for the days she worked, there was no violation of the statute.

The case is Varasso v. Williamsburg Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn., 2009-Ohio-3419.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Strip search violated student's rights, Court finds, but no administrator liability

A fractured Supreme Court found today that a student's constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure was violated when administrators strip searched her in search of ibuprofen, but that those administrators were not personally liable because the law was not "clearly established" at the time of the search.

The Court's opinion reiterated that the legal standard for student searches put forward by the Court in the TLO case still applies in public schools. That standard requires less than the probable cause normally required when the government conducts a search. However, school searches must be reasonable under the circumstances and proportional to the suspicion that gave rise to the search.

While the Court found that the search of the student's backpack and outer clothing was reasonable under the circumstances of this case, the Court held that the strip search went too far (the administrators made the girl partially remove her bra and required her to fan out her underwear). But because the law was not "clearly established" at the time of the search, the administrators were immune from liability.

This case is significant for a few reasons, one of them being that courts (and the Supreme Court) have increasingly deferred to judgment of school administrators in such matters, particularly where drugs are concerned, as was the case in Morse v. Frederick (that case, admittedly, was about speech and not intimate strip searches).

Parents, students, and administrators should take note of the facts in this case. While the law may not have been "clearly established" at the time of this particular search, this case will help to more clearly establish the factors in an unreasonable search where administrator liability may lie.

Monday, June 22, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court confirms that school districts may be liable for reimbursement when they fail to provide a free appropriate education

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 opinion released today, has made it easier for parents of special education students to be reimbursed for the cost of private schooling for their children.

The lawsuit had been brought by a teenage boy from Oregon whose parents sought the court to force the public school district in which he lived to pay the $5,200/month it cost to educate him at the private school.

At the center of the case was IDEA, the federal law that requires all States receiving federal funding to provide a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to all children with disabilities residing in the State. It was clear that when a public school fails to provide a FAPE, and a child’s parents place the child in an appropriate private school without the school district’s consent, a court may require the district to reimburse the parents for the cost of the private education. However, the question before the Court was whether 1997 amendments to IDEA barred an action for reimbursement for private-education costs if a child had not “previously received special education and related services under the authority of a public agency." The Court held that it was not necessary for the child to have previously received special education and related services by the School District to be reimbursed for those services.

In this case, the child, T.A., had been educated in the same district from kindergarten through his junior year in high school. From kindergarten through eighth grade, the student's teachers had observed that he had trouble paying attention in class and completing his assignments. When he entered high school, his difficulties increased. Nonetheless, the school district repeatedly concluded that the student did not qualify for special services related to any learning disability. His parents finally removed him from public school and requested reimbursement from the school district for his education.

A hearing officer found that the parents were entitled to reimbursement; the U.S. District Court reversed, finding that IDEA did not provide such a remedy. However, the 9th District Court of Appeals reversed the District Court, finding reimbursement an appropriate remedy. Today's decision affirms that reimbursement may be an appropriate remedy when a public school district fails to provide a FAPE, and enrolling the student in private school is appropriate.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

State Board of Education considering new rules for school employees with convictions

The State Board of Education is debating a proposal that would give greater leeway to school districts to hire non-licensed personnel, such as custodians, secretaries, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers, who have nonviolent criminal convictions.

The proposal would allow districts to hire applicants (and keep current employees) who can show that they have been rehabilitated for a period of years. The proposal would not be a mandate; a school district could apply tougher standards than the state.

Generally, under the proposal, people convicted of non-violent felonies, would be required to show they have had a clean record for 20 years; drug offenders would have to stay clean for 10 years, and misdemeanor offenders would have to have a clean record for 5 years.

In addition to having no new criminal convictions, the non-licensed personnel would be required to provide the district with a statement from a court, parole officer, probation officer or counselor.

While good arguments exist on both sides, school districts should be given the opportunity to hire the most qualified, able-bodied applicants for the job, even if those applicants have a several years-old, relatively minor criminal conviction. Unless there is a good reason to exclude someone with a conviction from working in the schools (i.e. sexual conviction), first-time offenders should be given an opportunity at a second chance if they have been rehabilitated.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Federal appeals court upholds dismissal of case of parents whose autistic son wandered off school grounds, found nude

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which covers Ohio, last week upheld a District Court's dismissal of a case brought by the parents of an autistic child who had wandered off school grounds and was found sometime later, nude and covered in mud. The matter is

The case was brought by David and Linda Parker and on behalf of their non-verbal autistic son, A.P. against the school principal, the school gym teacher, and the teacher's aide assigned to watch A.P. during gym class. While in gym class, A.P. wandered out of his afternoon gym class through an open gym door and out into the surrounding neighborhood. Upon discovering A.P.’s absence, the aide notified school officials, who initiated a search. With the help of local police, A.P. was found
several hours later, naked and covered in mud, a number of blocks away from school. The appeals court found that there was no evidence that A.P. was harmed during his absence from school and no evidence as to why he was not clothed when found.

A.P.’s parents then filed a lawsuit, alleging that in allowing him to wander
out of gym class the defendants had violated his substantive due process right “to be secure at school.” After discovery, the district court dismissed the matter because A.P. could not show the deprivation of a constitutional right. The appellate court held that A.P. had a right to "bodily integrity" under the Constitution, there was no evidence that right had been denied because though dirty and unclothed, there was no evidence of trauma or injury, be it physical or psychological.

Had A.P. suffered a physical or mental trauma, I believe the Court might have come to a different conclusion. Luckily for the school officials here, the Court did not find an injury had occurred.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

11th District Court of Appeals holds that board of education can be compelled to provide transportation for students

The Eleventh District Court of Appeals, in State ex rel. Luchette v. Pasquerilla, found that a court of common pleas may order a school district to provide transportation to a student when the Ohio State Board of Education has found that it is not impractical to do so.

The case involved a mother and her child who live in the Brookfield School District, but the child attends a a nonpublic school. In 2006, the Brookfield School District Board of Education passed a resolution, pursuant to R.C. 3327.02(A) and (B)(1), finding that transportation of the child was impractical. Under R.C. 3327.02(A)(3), the Trumbull County Educational Service Center review the decision and agreed with the school district, permitting the district to offer payment in lieu of transportation. The parents rejected payment and requested mediation by the Ohio Department of Education, as permitted by R.C. 3327.02(E)(1)(a). When mediation did not reach a resolution, a hearing was held, as required by R.C. 3327.02(E)(1)(b).

As a result of the hearing, the hearing officer recommended, and the state board approved, declining confirmation of the school district's impracticality decision. The recommendation found that the district only considered two of the six statutory factors in making its determination, among other findings. No one appealed the decision under R.C. 119.12. Nonetheless, the district refused to provide transportation.

The student sought an order from the Court of Common Pleas compelling the board to provide transportation. The Court of Common Pleas dismissed the case, finding the case improperly brought.

The Court of Appeals, however, ordered the school district to provide transportation and reversed and remanded the trial court's decision.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Greener Schools Bill Passes U.S. House

A $6.4 billion dollar moderization bill overwhelmingly passed yesterday in the United States House of Representatives. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

According to the House Education and Labor Committee, the bill makes schools part of the effort to revive the economy and fight global warming by "creating clean energy jobs that will help put workers in hard-hit industries back to work."

Though critics charge that the measure is too costly and increases the role of the federal government in education, there are several benefits to greener school buildigns. These benefits include improving air and water quality, conserving natural resources, reducing operating costs and improving employee productivity.

The measure, if passed into law, would create an estimated 136,000 positions.

Friday, May 8, 2009

School Cyber-Bullying Measure Moves Forward in Ohio Senate

A bill sponsored by State Sen. Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo) moved one step closer to becoming law on Wednesday. Senate Bill 126 would impose a strict duty on school administrators to report various forms of student-on-student bullying. Specifically, it prohibits school administrators from knowingly failing to report to law enforcement authorities menacing by stalking or telecommunications harassment that occurs on school grounds; it requires boards of education to adopt policies prohibiting bullying by electronic means; requires school districts' harassment policy to address acts that occur off school property but that materially disrupt the educational environment of the school; requires a school district to provide yearly training on the district’s bullying policy for district employees and volunteers; and lastly, the Bill would require school districts to notify students' parents or guardians if the annual training is not completed.

Cyber-bullying includes the repeated use of the internet, cell phones, and other technology to harass, threaten, intimidate, spread rumors, or create a hostile online environment.

“Schools need to be pro-active in educating students and parents about responsible use of technology at school,” said Sen. Fedor.

If the bill becomes law, school administrators should expect to become more vigilant about their students’ cyber activities and interactions, including communications on social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook, as well as text messages.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Supreme Court clarifies “grounds for appeal” language in R.C. 119.12

The Supreme Court of Ohio today clarified that R.C. 119.12 requires a party appealing an administrative order or ruling by a state agency to identify in its notice of appeal one or more specific legal or factual errors in the order being appeal. The decision makes clear that the notice of appeal must include more than a restatement of the statutory standard of review for such orders.

The decision has implications for Ohio educators because, among other reasons, R.C. 119.12 may be used to appeal decisions of the Ohio Department of Education suspending or revoking a teacher or administrator’s licensure. The procedures contained in R.C. 119.12 may also be used by an educator to recoup his or her attorney’s fees after successfully defending him or herself in an ODE hearing.

It seems the caveat laid down by the Supreme Court today is, when appealing decisions of administrative agencies pursuant to R.C. 119.12, err on the side of more information than less. What might seem like a technicality could actually divest a court of jurisdiction to hear an appeal.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Supreme Court refuses to hear suspended teacher's appeal

The Supreme Court of Ohio today, in a 4-3 vote, declined to hear the appeal of a teacher who had her teaching licensed suspended by the Ohio State Board of Education for alleged violations of R.C. 3319.151(A).

At issue in the case was a teacher with 25 years teaching experience. In March 2006, she served as a proctor of the Ohio Achievement Test. During the reading test administration, the teacher created a practice worksheet for the math portion of the test. Certain questions on her practice worksheet requested that the student "solve for the value of X." Later, while flipping through the test booklet for another matter, she noticed the instruction in the test booklet, "solve for X." Believing instruction in the test booklet to be "much more clear" than her own instruction, the teacher changed the instructions on the practice worksheet to "solve for X."

Upon completion of the practice worksheet, the teacher distributed the worksheet to other teachers in her grade level, purportedly telling them to "not let the students take this home" and "destroy it when you are done." This made the other teachers uncomfortable and they did not believe that the distributing teacher was joking. Only one other teacher, besides the author, distributed the practice worksheet.

Later that same week, during the administration of the mathematics portion of the test, one of the teachers who had received the practice worksheet noticed similarities between some of the questions on the practice worksheet and some of the problems on the test. The teacher was questioned later by the school principal and the matter was picked up by the Ohio Department of Education.

The Ohio Department of Education gave the teacher notice that it intended to determine whether to suspend her teaching certificates. Pursuant to the Revised Code and the U.S. Constitution, the teacher elected to have a hearing on the matter.

As a result of the hearing, the hearing officer determined that the teacher violated R.C. 3319.151(A) by revealing to students a specific question known by the teacher to be part of an Ohio Achievement Test to be administered later that week. Specifically, the hearing officer found in his Report and Recommendation that three of ten questions on the practice worksheet were "significantly more similar" to, or almost identical, to questions on the actual Ohio Achievement Test. The hearing officer recommended the teacher's license be suspended for one year. The Ohio State Board of Education adopted, by resolution, the Report and Recommendation of the hearing officer.

The teacher appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, which found that there was substantial, reliable, and probative evidence to support the Board's decision to suspend the teacher's license.

The teacher appealed to the 11th District Court of Appeals, which upheld the decision of the trial court. The appeals court found that R.C. 3316.151(A) is violated not just by the verbatim revealing of specific questions, but also the revelation of questions "that the person knows is part of a test."

The Supreme Court's decision not to hear the case could signal that R.C. 3316.151(A) will be broadly construed. School teachers and administrators would be well-served by not looking at any portion of the Ohio Achievement Test and ensuring that any practice worksheets or tests that they create are made far in advance of the administration of the Ohio Achievement Test.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cleveland Appeals Court upholds student's suspension

The Eight District Court of Appeals in Cleveland, Ohio recently upheld the suspension of two students who were suspended for allegedly fighting in Buckosh v. Westlake City Schools, 2009-Ohio-1093.

The student challenged the decision of the court of common pleas upholding the decision of the school board to suspend them. She made a few arguments to the appellate court, among them that her constitutional rights and statutory rights under R.C. 3319.66 to notice had been violated, that the trial court was wrong for not allowing her to argue self-defense and that the trial court was wrong in not giving her an opportunity to present more evidence.

The appellate court found that because, in its opinion, (1) the student had been provided with written notice of the charges against her, (2) the school district provide the reasons it was was suspending her, (3) the student had an opportunity to explain her actions, neither the U.S. Constitution or the Revised Code had been violated.

Additionally, the appeals court found that the student's rights to substantive due process were not violated when a student is denied an opportunity to present an affirmative defense of self-defense in a school suspension hearing.

Finally, because the student was unable to show that the result would have been any different if more evidence was brought before the trial court, the court of appeals upheld her suspension.

U.S. Supreme Court to decide student strip search case

Late last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments as to whether the strip search of a thirteen year old girl by school officials violated the United States Constitution. Whatever the justices decide, the decision will likely assist school districts across the nation craft search policies in tune with the Fourth Amendment.

Savana Redding was a thirteen year old honor student with no disciplinary record, when, on October 8, 2003, an assistant principal pulled her out of math class. Another student had accused Savana of giving her ibuprofen tablets, in violation of school policies. For reference, each tablet at issue was as strong as two Advil.

Two female school employees demanded that the girl strip down to her undergarments. They then forced her to pull open her bra, open her legs, and move her panties so that they could thoroughly search her. The search yielded nothing.

Savana's mother later instituted a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court alleging a violation of her daughter's Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with her, concluding that "[i]t does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights. More than that, it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity."

The last time the Supreme Court addressed the search of an individual student on school grounds was in New Jersey v. T.L.O. There, the Court held, that school officials do not need a warrant to search the belongings of students, but they do require "reasonable suspicion," which is a lower standard than probable cause. Reasonableness was based on (1) whether the search was justified at its inception and (2) whether the search conducted reasonably related in scope to circumstances that justified it in the first place.

Thus, the question seems to be whether one student's tip that another student had given her drugs, without more, justifies an intimate search of a person's body. If it does, the question becomes whether the search of a student's undergarments and nude body to find the ibuprofen was reasonably related in scope to the anonymous tip.

Expect to have a decision in the next month that will hopefully answer these questions so that school administrators can be clear about the rules governing them and students can be clear about what can be done to them.

Former School Librarian's Denial of Disability Upheld

The Supreme Court of Ohio, in a 5-2 decision, upheld the decision of the 10th District Court of Appeals, denying a request that State Teachers Retirement Board reinstate a former librarian's disability-retirement benefits.

The former junior high librarian applied to the STRS for disability-retirement in December 1987. Her attending physician diagnosed her with having chronic systemic viral syndrome and certified that she was, at least temporarily, incapacitated from her performance as a teacher. Additional examinations, requested by STRS, confirmed she was disabled. Thus, she was granted disability retirement in 1988.

Seventeen years later, in 2005, the retirement board requested the librarian's treating physician provide a report on her medical status. The treating physician noted her diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia; the doctor also noted that the librarian suffered from fatigue, muscle and joint pain, swollen glands, and a low-grade fever.

Again, the STRS retirement board ordered another physician to examine the librarian to determine whether her disability should be continued. While not disagreeing with any of the librarian's treating physician's diagnoses, the STRS physician concluded the librarian was not disabled because of her lack of objective abnormalities. The STRS physician certified that the librarian was capable of resuming regular full-time service similar to that from which she had retired and that disability benefits should cease. A recomendation was then made that the librarian's benefits should cease.

In response, the librarian was evaluated by another physician who again affirmed her treating physician's diagnosis. This physician went on to note that chronic fatigue syndrome was incapable of objective quantification.

The STRS physician, again not disagreeing with the librarian's physician, concluded that based on objective abnormalities, the librarian should return to work. As a result of the STRS physician's recommendations, the librarian's benefits were terminated.

The Supreme Court, in affirming the decision of the Court of Appeals below, held that the decision to terminate the librarian's benefits was not unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable. The Court found that the STRS could propertly consider the librarian's lack of objective abnormalities in finding she was not disabled.

The case should be cited State ex rel. Morgan v. State Teachers Retirement Bd. of Ohio,
121 Ohio St.3d 324