Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Education Law
Central Dauphin Sch. Dist. v. Hawkins, et al.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred when it applied the plurality’s analysis in Easton Area School District v. Miller, 232 A.3d 716 (Pa. 2020) (Easton Area II) and ordered redaction and disclosure of the school bus surveillance video it determined to be an education record subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). In 2016, Valerie Hawkins, on behalf of Fox 43 News (collectively, Requester), submitted a Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) request to Central Dauphin School District (the District), seeking a copy of school bus surveillance video which captured an incident between a 17-year-old member of a District high school basketball team (the student), and a parent of another player (the adult), who allegedly grabbed the student’s wrist during their interaction. The incident occurred in a parking lot outside the high school’s gymnasium, while the players and school staff were boarding the school bus following a basketball game. The adult involved received a summary citation for harassment related to the incident. Requester attached a copy of the citation notice from the magisterial district court record to the record request; the notice identified the adult and student by name as the defendant and victim, respectively. Karen McConnell, the District’s open records officer, denied the request for access to the video, explaining it was an education record containing “personally identifiable information directly related to a student or students,” which, according to the District, protected the video from release under FERPA, and consequently precluded its disclosure under the RTKL as well. The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court did not err when it applied the analysis articulated in Easton Area II and ordered the mandatory redaction and disclosure of a school bus surveillance video it determined to be an education record subject to FERPA. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's order with instructions to the District to reasonably redact the students’ personally identifiable information prior to disclosure. View "Central Dauphin Sch. Dist. v. Hawkins, et al." on Justia Law
Bell, et al. v. Wilkinsburg Sch. Dist.
In this appeal, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether Appellant, Wilkinsburg School District, was required to obtain prior approval from the Department of Education before changing the mode of transportation for charter school students, from school buses to public transportation. After review of the governing statutes and administrative regulations promulgated by the State Board of Education, the Supreme Court concluded the District was not required to obtain such approval and, therefore, reversed the Commonwealth Court decision and remanded to that court for further proceedings. View "Bell, et al. v. Wilkinsburg Sch. Dist." on Justia Law
Corman, J., et al. v. Beam
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted expedited review of this direct appeal to decide whether the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam (“the Secretary”) lacked the power under existing law and Department of Health regulations to require individuals to wear facial coverings while inside Pennsylvania’s schools as a means of controlling the spread of COVID-19. Having determined that the Secretary exceeded her authority in issuing that directive, by per curiam order on December 10, 2021, the Court affirmed the lower court’s decision nullifying the mandate, and published this opinion expounding on its reasoning. View "Corman, J., et al. v. Beam" on Justia Law
Eastern Univ. Acad. C.S. v. Sch.Dist. of Phila.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether Section 1729-A(a) of the Charter School Law imposed a mandatory deadline by which a school district had to decide to renew or not renew a charter school’s charter. In 2006, Appellant Eastern University Academy Charter School (“Eastern”), applied to the School District of Philadelphia (the “School District”) seeking to establish a charter school program aimed at enabling students to earn college credits at Eastern University while completing their high school studies. In 2009, the School District granted Eastern a charter to operate a middle school and high school for students grades 7 through 12. Eastern’s 2012 renewal application incorporated its original charter application and obligated Eastern to continue its operations in accordance with the standards and goals it had represented in its original application. However, during the ensuing term of the charter, Eastern’s program shifted, as its affiliation with Eastern University, ended. Eastern nevertheless submitted a second renewal application in the fall of 2016, seeking its continued operation as an “early college” program, the mission of which remained preparing students for postsecondary education and providing dual enrollment opportunities to high school students. While Eastern acknowledged it was no longer affiliated with the University, it indicated that its students had begun taking college courses elsewhere during the 2016-2017 school year, and that it was actively researching additional college-level opportunities for its students. On June 1, 2017, the School District’s Charter Schools Office (the “CSO”) recommended that Eastern’s charter not be renewed; after a hearing, the School District voted not to renew Eastern's charter. Eastern appealed, arguing, among other things, that the School District’s failure to issue its nonrenewal decision prior to the charter’s expiration date – June 30, 2017 – invalidated the nonrenewal under Section 1729-A of the Charter School Law. The Supreme Court determined the legislature imposed no such deadline, and affirmed the Commonwealth Court's order upholding the decision not to renew Eastern's charter. View "Eastern Univ. Acad. C.S. v. Sch.Dist. of Phila." on Justia Law
J.S., et al. v. Manheim Twp. SD
At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in this case centered on a determination of Appellant Manheim Township School District (“School District”) that one of its students, Appellee J.S., made terroristic threats to another student through social media – outside of the school day and off school property – substantially disrupting the school environment, and leading to his expulsion. The Supreme Court granted review to consider whether the School District denied J.S. due process during the expulsion process and to consider the proper standard by which to determine whether J.S. engaged in threatening speech unprotected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, or created a substantial disruption of the school environment. The Court determined J.S. did not engage in unprotected speech, and did not cause a substantial disruption to the school environment. Therefore, the Court concluded that the School District improperly expelled J.S., and affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "J.S., et al. v. Manheim Twp. SD" on Justia Law
In Re: Appeal for Formation of Independent SD
A majority of the taxable inhabitants of Highspire Borough, Pennslyvania (the “Coalition”) filed a petition seeking to be established as a school district independent from Steelton-Highspire School District (“SHSD”) for the sole purpose of having the new school district be absorbed into the neighboring Middletown Area School District (“MASD”). The Secretary of Education issued an opinion and order denying the transfer on the grounds that the academic benefits to be enjoyed by the transferring students did not outweigh the educational detriments imposed upon the students in the SHSD and MASD districts. In particular, the Secretary concluded that the transfer would undermine the financial stability of SHSD and put a strain on class size and facilities at MASD. On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed, taking issue with the Secretary’s consideration of finances and holding that the Secretary should have instead narrowly focused on the academic benefits that would be enjoyed by the transferring students. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that in this case, the Secretary properly considered financial impacts and appropriately focused on the quality of education for the students in all of the school districts associated with the proposed transfer. The Court therefore reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court and remanded for further proceedings. View "In Re: Appeal for Formation of Independent SD" on Justia Law
Nicole B. v. Philadelphia Sch. Dist., et al.
On October 25, 2011, Appellant Nicole B.’s then-eight-year-old son N.B. was sexually assaulted by three of his male fourth-grade classmates in a bathroom at his public elementary school in the City of Philadelphia. According to Appellant, N.B. had endured two months of pervasive physical and verbal harassment at school leading up to the sexual assault. During that time, both Appellant and N.B. reported the harassment to his teacher and to school administrators, to no avail. In November 2011, Appellant withdrew N.B. from the elementary school after learning of the attack. Over two years later, in 2014, Appellant filed an administrative complaint with the Human Relations Commission against the Philadelphia School District (“District”) in her individual capacity and on N.B.’s behalf, asserting claims of discrimination on the basis of gender and race under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”). The Human Relations Commission rejected Appellant’s complaint as untimely, because it was filed beyond the 180-day time limit. In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether principles of equitable tolling found in PHRA, or Pennsylvania’s Minority Tolling Statute (“Minority Tolling Statute”), applied to an otherwise untimely complaint. After review, the Supreme Court found the PHRA’s equitable tolling provision applied to a minor whose parent failed to satisfy the applicable statute of limitations for filing an administrative complaint prior to the minor reaching the age of majority. By this finding, the Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Nicole B. v. Philadelphia Sch. Dist., et al." on Justia Law
Easton Area Sch. Dist. v. Miller
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred in determining a school bus surveillance video sought in a request for public records pursuant to the Right-to-Know Law (RTKL) was not exempt from disclosure under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C. 1232g. Rudy Miller, on behalf of The Express Times (collectively, Requester), submitted a RTKL request to the District. Therein, Requester sought information in connection with an incident involving an elementary school teacher who, according to Requester, had roughly physically disciplined a child on a school bus outside of the school. Although its rationale departed from the analysis of the Commonwealth Court, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s order, with instructions to redact students’ images from the video prior to disclosure. View "Easton Area Sch. Dist. v. Miller" on Justia Law
APSCUF v. PLRB
In this appeal by allowance, the issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's (“State System”) policy regarding the protection of minors ― requiring, inter alia, that faculty members submit to criminal background checks and report to their university employers if they are arrested or convicted of a serious crime, or found or indicated to be a perpetrator of child abuse ― constituted an inherent managerial policy or prerogative, rendering it nonbargainable for purposes of collective bargaining between the faculty and the State System. The Supreme Court determined the policy at issue constituted a nonbargainable inherent managerial policy. The Court reversed the Commonwealth Court, which held to the contrary. View "APSCUF v. PLRB" on Justia Law
Kegerise v. Delgrande, et al,
Dr. Susan Kegerise sought reinstatement as superintendent of the Susquehanna Township School District, as well as back pay and benefits. In January 2010, Kegerise was appointed superintendent. In 2013, the District’s Board of Directors extended Kegerise’s contract for a three-year term after agreeing, at Kegerise’s request, to include a resignation provision in her employment contract. Kegerise alleged this resignation clause was necessary to protect her interests in light of several Board members’ inappropriate behavior. Kegerise further alleged that, this clause notwithstanding, and in an effort to force her resignation, several Board members persisted in hostile actions including, inter alia, physical intimidation and verbal abuse, even after the contract was executed. In 2014, Kegerise informed the Board that she was receiving medical care and would be unable to return to work until April 21, 2014. While Kegerise was on medical leave, the Board received several letters from Kegerise’s counsel asserting that Kegerise had been constructively discharged. The Board responded by affirming that Kegerise remained the Superintendent of Schools, and that “[h]er time away from the District since that day has been recorded as sick leave derived from Dr. Kegerise’s pre-existing sick leave accumulation.” On April 17, 2014, Kegerise filed a complaint at the United States District Court, alleging, inter alia, that the Board had constructively discharged her. Kegerise asserted that, “although no formal termination has taken place, [she] cannot perform the job duties of Superintendent,” due to the Board’s behavior toward her. Kegerise sought damages in excess of six million dollars, including compensatory and economic damages “for loss of contractual salary and other emoluments of employment” and consequential damages for “damage to professional reputation and loss of future salary as an educational administrator.” The trial court held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Kegerise had intended to resign when she filed her federal complaint, after which, it ordered the Board to reinstate Kegerise to her position with back pay and benefits. The Board appealed to the Commonwealth Court; the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of mandamus. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, found Kegerise did not demonstrate to a clear legal right to reinstatement. Accordingly, the orders reinstating her as superintendent with back pay and benefits was reversed. View "Kegerise v. Delgrande, et al," on Justia Law