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U.S. Supreme Court: Education Decisions (2008 – 2009 Term)

Education Publications

The following is a review of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions related to education issues for the 2008 – 2009 term.

Speaker of Arizona House of Rep. v. Flores and Horne v. Flores
Issues Presented:  Has Arizona taken “appropriate action” to overcome barriers to English-language learning (ELL) in its schools, and does Arizona’s compliance with the specific ELL requirements of No Child Left Behind satisfy the EEOA’s more general “appropriate action” requirement?

Status:  Decided June 25, 2009.

Result:  In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the lower courts incorrectly placed a heightened standard on the state to demonstrate that a sufficient change in circumstance had occurred to warrant dismissal of the order. In particular, the Court held that the lower courts incorrectly focused on the state’s funding scheme, rather than looking at other factors that may demonstrate that the defendants were now taking appropriate action to address the needs of its ELL students. 

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Safford U.S.D. #1 v. Redding
Issues Presented:  Does the Fourth Amendment prohibit public school officials from conducting a strip search of a student suspected of possessing and distributing a prescription drug on campus in violation of school policy, and may a public school administrator be liable in a damages lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for conducting a search of the student?

Status:  Decided June 25, 2009.

Result:  By an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the strip search of a 13-year-old middle school girl violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches, because the search did not even raise a moderate chance of finding evidence of wrongdoing. The Court also held, 7-2, that the school officials who conducted the search were entitled to qualified immunity, because it was not clearly established at the time of the search that it would violate the Fourth Amendment. The Court did not address the issue of whether the school district was also entitled to qualified immunity, and remanded to the lower court on that question. 

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Forest Grove Sch. Dist. V. T.A.
Issue Presented:  May parents of a student who has never previously received special education services from a school district be eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for reimbursement of private school tuition? (Note: the Court granted certiorari to resolve this question in its last term in Board of Education of New York v. Tom F. (06-637), but affirmed the opinion below by an equally divided vote.)

Status:  Decided June 22, 2009. 

Result:  In a 6-3 decision that makes it easier for parents to be reimbursed for private school tuition for special education students, the United States Supreme Court held that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not categorically prohibit reimbursement of private education costs for children who have never received special education and related services from a public school.

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Pleasant Grove City, Utah V. Summum
Issue Presented:  Under the First Amendment, does the placement of privately donated monuments in a public park qualify as private speech, or is it government speech that is subject to First Amendment scrutiny?

Status:  Decided February 25, 2009.

Result:  By a 6-3 vote, the Court held that the placement of a permanent monument in a public park is a form of government speech and is therefore not subject to strict scrutiny under the Free Speech Clause.

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Ysursa v. Pocatello Educ. Assoc.
Issue Presented:  Did a state’s ban on payroll deductions for political contributions by unions, as applied to local governmental units, infringe upon union’s First Amendment rights?

Status: Decided February 24, 2009.

Result:  By a 6-3 vote, the Court held that the state’s ban on the use of payroll deductions to support union political contributions, did not infringe upon unions’ First Amendment rights. 

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Crawford v. Metropolitan Gov’t of Nashville
Issues Presented:  Can a school district employee maintain a retaliation lawsuit under Title VII based upon alleged retaliation for statements made in response to an employer’s internal sexual harassment investigation?

Status:  Decided January 26, 2009.

Result:  By a 9-0 vote, the Court held that Title VII does prohibit retaliation against employees who report sexual harassment in response to an employer’s internal investigation.

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Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee 
Issue Presented:  Does Title IX’s implied right of action provide an exclusive remedy for claims of gender discrimination in federally-funded academic institutions, therefore limiting the right to bring a separate claim for a violation of the constitutional right to Equal Protection?

Status: Decided January 21, 2009.

Result:  By a 9-0 vote, the Court held that Title IX does not preclude a §1983 action alleging unconstitutional gender discrimination in schools, because Congress intended Title IX to be interpreted to allow for parallel and concurrent §1983 claims. 

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Locke v. Karass 
Issue Presented:  Can a state require public employees who are not union members but who are included in a bargaining unit represented by a labor organization to pay agency fees for litigation expenses outside the bargaining unit?

Status:  Decided January 21, 2009.

Result:  By a 9-0 vote, the Court held that the Constitution allows a local unit of a labor union to charge workers who are not members fees to help cover lawsuit expenses of the union at the national level, so long as those lawsuits involve issues that could have been pursued if they had involved only local conditions—such as litigation related to collective bargaining—and the charge is reciprocal in nature—meaning that the contributing local reasonably expects other locals to contribute similarly to the national’s resources for costs of similar litigation on behalf of the contributing local if and when it takes place.

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