Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
by
Plaintiff and his parents filed suit against the school district, seeking damages under the Rehabilitation Act and 42 U.S.C. 1983 after plaintiff was expelled from high school. The Fifth Circuit explained that, because plaintiff did not exhaust the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act's (IDEA) procedures, his suit asserting other federal claims must be dismissed if it seeks relief that is also available under the IDEA. In this case, both the substance and language of plaintiff's complaint reveal that he was challenging the denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that the IDEA promised him. The court held that plaintiff did not seek awards tied to the cost of providing him with an adequate education. Rather, he sought damages for injuries like emotional distress, and such traditional compensatory damages were not available under the IDEA. Therefore, the IDEA's exhaustion requirement applied to plaintiffs who seek damages for the denial of a FAPE. In this case, because plaintiff did not first seek relief through the IDEA administrative process, his lawsuit was properly dismissed. View "McMillen v. New Caney Independent School District" on Justia Law

by
After O.W. was withdrawn from school, the administrative hearing officer found that the school district violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and awarded O.W. two years of private school tuition. The district court affirmed and the school district appealed. The Fifth Circuit held that the IDEA's text and structure, including its implementing regulations, compel a conclusion that the child find and expedited evaluation requirements are separate and independent such that a violation of the latter does not mean a violation of the former. Therefore, the district court erred to the extent it held otherwise. The court also held that the continued use of behavioral interventions was not a proactive step toward compliance with the school district's child find duties, and thus a child find violation occurred. In regard to claims that the district court failed to implement O.W.'s individualized education program (IEP), the district court did not err in finding that the use of the take-discipline was a significant or substantial departure from the IEP; the district court erred in concluding that eight instances of physical restraints violated O.W.'s IEP; and the single instance of police involvement did not rise to the level of an actionable violation. Furthermore, the district court correctly concluded the May 18, 2015, modification rose to the level of an actionable violation, but erred in finding the May 6, 2015, modification represented an actionable failure to implement O.W.'s IEP. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the remedy issue for reconsideration. View "Spring Branch Independent School District v. O.W." on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to UTA in an appeal arising out of a Title IX suit for damages alleging that UTA discriminated on the basis of sex in disciplining Thomas Klocke. Klocke was placed on disciplinary probation by UTA and was not allowed to attend class because he had harassed another student for being gay. Klocke committed suicide shortly afterwards. His estate filed suit against UTA, seeking damages for Klocke's suffering and anguish prior to his death. The court held that UTA's disciplinary decisions were reasonable and justifiable on non-discriminatory grounds, and an inference of gender bias in these circumstances would necessarily be speculative. The court also held that the selective enforcement claim failed because none of the cases that the estate has identified permit the inference that similarly situated female students were treated more favorably than Klocke. Finally, the estate cited no additional evidence to support a retaliation claim. View "Klocke v. University of Texas at Arlington" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs appealed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss or alternatively for summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' disability-related claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Plaintiffs' claims stemmed from an officers' treatment of their autistic, eight year old son. The Fifth Circuit vacated, holding that there were material disputes of fact and this case was distinguishable from Hainze v. Richards, 207 F.3d 795 (2000), because there was no exigent circumstance. In this case, the court held that a jump rope in the hands of an eight year old child was not a weapon and was not capable of inflicting the same injuries or damage as an actual weapon, even if he called the jump rope his "nunchucks." At the very least, the court held that whether an eight year old twirling a child's jump rope created a danger of physical harm or a potentially life-threatening situation is a dispute of material fact. Because there are disputes of material fact, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Wilson v. City of Southlake" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court's denial of discharge on plaintiff's student loan debt under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(8). The court held that there was no evidence that plaintiff's present circumstances -- her deteriorating diabetic conditions and the costs associated with it, and her inability to maintain employment -- are likely to persist throughout a significant portion of the loans' repayment period. Therefore, under the Brunner standard adopted by this court in In re Gerhardt, 348 F.3d at 91, and the vast majority of other circuit courts, plaintiff was not eligible for discharge for her student loans. View "Thomas v. Department of Education" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint, based on subject matter jurisdiction, against the University, UT High School, and various school officials, alleging claims of racketeering and "gaslighting." Plaintiff alleged that UT High School's various policies and practices regarding grading and ranking knocked him out of the running for various scholarships and admissions into prestigious colleges, and that officials conspired to do so in order to gaslight, or cause psychological harm, to him. The court held that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, because UT High School is an instrumentality of the State of Texas that enjoys sovereign immunity. Plaintiff's claims against the remaining defendants were abandoned. View "Sissom v. University of Texas High School" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's conclusion that J.M., a fourth grade student, was eligible for special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The court held that the district court's findings were well-supported, reasonable, and correct. Among other things, there were various reliable indicators of J.M.'s struggle in the general education environment where he failed his benchmark tests, teachers reported that he struggled with attention to task due to avoidance behaviors, he had difficulty producing written work, and displayed excessively high/low activity level. View "Lisa M. v. Leander Independent School District" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law
by
This appeal arose from the district court's 2017 decision to grant "provisional" unitary status to the school system in the area of facilities. The district court set a two-year year probationary period, during which it would retain jurisdiction over that aspect of the desegregation order and the school district would face semiannual compliance reviews. At the end of the two years, the district court would then consider an "unconditional" grant of unitary status in facilities. The school board appealed. The court held that the Youngblood procedure, requiring a probationary period before final dismissal of a desegregation case, is a longstanding practice in this circuit. The court rejected the school board's legal challenge to the Youngblood procedure and held that a district court has long had discretion to impose a Youngblood period, and the school board cited nothing that would allow the court to depart from this settled law. The court also held that the district court did not clearly err by determining that the school board came up a bit short of demonstrating good faith compliance and that a two year probationary period was necessary in this case. View "Moore v. Tangipahoa Parish School Board" on Justia Law

by
A former student filed suit against the school district for violating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, alleging that the school district was deliberately indifferent to her alleged sexual harassment and that the school district retaliated against her by withholding Title IX protections. The district court granted in part and denied in part the school district's motion for summary judgment. At issue on appeal was the deliberate indifference claim. The Fifth Circuit rejected plaintiff's contention that the question of whether a school district acted with deliberate indifference generally should be decided by a jury. The court held that summary judgment in the school district's favor was appropriate because there was no genuine dispute that the school district was not deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's claims of harassment. The court rejected plaintiff's claim that allowing deliberate-indifference claims to be resolved by jury deliberations served the underlying purpose of discouraging gender-based discrimination. View "I.F. v. Lewisville Independent School District" on Justia Law

by
Parents of C.J. filed suit under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), alleging that the school district failed to provide him with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of the school district and rejected parents' claim that the school district's refusal to provide Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) services denied C.J. a FAPE where parents could not meaningfully claim that C.J.'s individualized education plan (IEP) was predetermined; the district court did not clearly err by finding that sufficient notice of C.J.'s eligibility for summer school classes was provided; in light of the facts, the school district did not deny C.J. a FAPE by failing to protect him from bullying; and C.J.'s transition plan did not deny him a FAPE. View "Renee J. v. Houston Independent School District" on Justia Law