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.

Friday, February 15, 2013

School district not liable for sexual abuse, court of appeals rules

In a case decided this week out of Columbus, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to find a school district liable for the molestation of a child by a teacher, even though the teacher had previously been reprimanded for unwanted touchings. The allegations involved a fourth-grade teacher employed by Columbus City Schools. The teacher had been reprimanded consistently over the year for what amounted to more and more aggressive unwanted touchings of students, though the touchings were arguably of a non-sexual nature. In several of the instances, the teacher was reprimanded by the school district. Finally, in the spring of 2005, a student at the school reported that both she and the plaintiff of the present case, John Doe, had been touched by the teacher. The student asserted that the teacher had touched Doe on at least five occasions in the classroom. The teacher summoned the plaintiff to review his work and, in doing so, planted his hand down the plaintiff's pants and fondled his genitals. The student did not return to the school after these accusations were made. An investigation by law enforcement and child services revealed that other students had been victims of the teacher. This led to a fifteen-count indictment against the teacher for gross sexual imposition in violation of section 2907.05 of the Ohio Revised Code. The teacher entered an Alford plea for two counts 1 and was sentenced to ten years’ incarceration, surrendering his teacher’s license in the process. The student sued the Columbus City Schools’ Board of Education, the School District, the superintendent, the school principal, and the teacher, alleging violations of substantive due process, Title IX, and related state tort law claims. Analyzing these claims, the court found that the parents proved to meet the deliberate indifference burden. Deliberate indifference arises when “school officials are aware of the misconduct but do nothing to stop it, despite [the school district’s] ability to exercise control over the situation.” Horner v. Ky. High Sch. Athletic Assn., 206 F.3d 685, 692 (6th Cir. 2000). Because "the nature and severity of [the teacher's] misconduct was not ... apparent to school officials" from the previous touchings that were not sexual in nature, there was not liability on the Board of Education, the school district, the superintendent, or the school principal.