Articles Posted in Education Law

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Plaintiff Gerald Castille worked as a school bus driver for the St. Martin Parish School Board. During his first few years, plaintiff drove two "undesirable" routes, as they "required the assigned bus driver to travel very long distances while trying to maintain a safe and orderly bus populated with children from families that were known to have little or no respect for the bus operators. . . ." In 1980, plaintiff was assigned to the "Highway 31 Route," which was initially considered undesirable, plaintiff asserted it changed over time and became more desirable as the route became less populated. While driving that route for nearly thirty years, plaintiff claimed to have developed relationships with the students and their parents, noting the route gave him "a sense of purpose and dignity." In the spring of 2008, the costs of diesel fuel began to rise, and the School Board was forced to take steps to save money by redrawing and reassigning bus routes. Prior to the start of the 2008-2009 school year, the bus drivers received their new route assignments. The School Board assigned plaintiff a combined "Levee-Portage Route," two of his old routes, with no change in his salary, health benefits, or retirement. Plaintiff objected to this new route, but claimed the bus manager told him to try the route for a few weeks and come back if he was still unhappy. After two weeks, plaintiff requested to be returned to the Highway 31 route, but was told to deal with the current situation. He alerted his supervisors to the problems, but claim they took no action. According to plaintiff, he began experiencing anxiety and depression problems during this time. His problems continued until 2011, when a more desirable vacant route became available. Plaintiff filed the instant suit against the School Board, alleging the School Board violated La. R.S. 17:493.14 in assigning the bus routes in 2008. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in this matter to consider whether the court of appeal erred in awarding plaintiff damages for bad faith breach of contract. The Court found the court of appeal erred in awarding bad faith damages and therefore reversed that portion of the court of appeal's judgment, and affirmed in all other respects. View "Castille v. St. Martin Parish Sch. Bd." on Justia Law

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According to her Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, plaintiff Kasha LaPointe was employed as a tenured public school teacher by defendant Vermilion Parish School Board (“VPSB or the Board”). Jerome Puyau, the Superintendent of Schools for VPSB advised LaPointe that a “due process hearing” would be held in his office to address charges of alleged “willful neglect of duty” and “dishonesty.” According to the Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, this letter, also called the “charge letter” by the parties, advised LaPointe that she would be “afforded an opportunity to respond” to the allegations but that “[n]o witnesses [would] be heard….” However, LaPointe did appear with her counsel in the office of the superintendent and did present, with counsel's assistance, her explanations and responses to the allegations in the “charge letter.” After that hearing, the Board elected to terminate LaPointe's employment. LaPointe challenged the termination, asking for a Tenure Hearing Panel. The Tenure Hearing Panel was convened. The hearing officer and the panel proceeded to take evidence and hear testimony, all of which was preserved. Thereafter, the panel made its recommendation, voting 2-1 to concur with the superintendent‟s action to terminate LaPointe's employment. LaPointe timely filed a Petition for Judicial Review Pursuant to LSA-R.S. 17:443(B)(2), requesting judicial review of her termination. No judicial review of the termination itself had been conducted at this point, owing to a constitutional challenge. As to the constitutional challenge, LaPointe requested a judicial declaration that Act 1 of 2012 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature was unconstitutional in its entirety and further declaring Act 1 to be null, void, and of no legal effect whatsoever. She alleged the hearing provisions of Act 1 deprived her of her vested property right to continued employment without due process of law as required by Amendment XIV of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 2, and of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974. Because the constitutionality of Act 1 was challenged, the Attorney General later intervened as a defendant in the matter. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the lower court erred in declaring unconstitutional on its face Act 1 of the 2012 Legislative Session as codified in La. Rev. Stat. 17:443(B)(1) and (2). Upon de novo review, the Court found the court of appeal erred in declaring La. Rev. Stat. 17:443 as amended by Act 1 of 2012 unconstitutional on its face because it did not afford a full evidentiary hearing before a neutral adjudicator prior to termination. Instead, the Court found La. Rev. Stat. 17:443 as amended by Act 1 of 2012 provided sufficient due process to protect the tenured teacher's vested employment rights. View "LaPointe v. Vermilion Parish Sch. Bd." on Justia Law

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This class action arose out of the termination of approximately 7,600 former teachers and other permanent employees of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) as a result of Hurricane Katrina and the State of Louisiana’s subsequent takeover of Orleans Parish schools. Although the district court denied defendants’ exceptions of res judicata, a five judge panel of the court of appeal unanimously found that res judicata ordinarily would apply to the facts of this case, but that exceptional circumstances barred its application. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted two writ applications to determine whether the doctrine of res judicata barred plaintiffs’ claims against the OPSB and/or the State defendants, and, if not, whether the OPSB and/or the State defendants violated the plaintiffs’ due process rights in relation to the plaintiffs’ terminations. The Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeal that res judicata applied but found no exceptional circumstances that would preclude its application. Furthermore, the Court found that, even if res judicata did not apply to certain parties’ claims, neither the OPSB nor the State defendants violated plaintiffs’ due process rights. View "Oliver v. Orleans Parish School Board" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Jerry Lee Baldwin entered into a written agreement with the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System to serve as the head football coach at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL). The contract provided that Baldwin’s employment with UL would last until January 31, 2003. By letter dated November 27, 2001, Baldwin was “relieved of [his] duties” as UL’s head coach effective November 26, 2001, after winning only six of twenty-seven games (an 18% win record). Baldwin continued to receive his full monthly salary and other employee benefits from UL including health insurance, accrual of leave time, and accrual of retirement credits for the remainder of the contract term. Baldwin sued the Board over the contract. Defendants sought review of the court of appeal’s determination that the coach’s contract had been terminated, which triggered a contractual obligation to provide notice. Interpreting the contract in its entirety, the Supreme Court found that the appellate court erred in finding that the failure of notice constituted a breach of contract under the facts of this case. Accordingly, the Court reversed the appellate court’s decision and reinstated the summary judgment rendered by the trial court, which dismissed the coach’s breach of contract claim against defendants. View "Baldwin v. Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System" on Justia Law

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The district court found that House Bill 974 of the 2012 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, which was enacted as Act 1 of 2012 (Act 1), violated the single object requirement for legislative bills as provided for in La. Const. art. III, section 15(A). Act 1 of 2012 amended, reenacted and repealed various statutes in Title 17. Looking first at the title, and then to the body of Act 1, the Supreme Court concluded that the subject of the act is elementary and secondary education, and the object of the act was improving elementary and secondary education through tenure reform and performance standards based on effectiveness. After examining the numerous provisions of Act 1, the Court determined that "they all have a natural connection and are incidental and germane to that one object." In order to overturn a legislative enactment pursuant to the one-object rule, “the objections must be grave and the conflict between the statute and the constitution palpable.” In this case, the Supreme Court found that plaintiffs the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers, Jefferson Foundation of Teachers, Nellie Joyce Meriman, and Kevin Joseph DeHart, failed to establish that such a grave and palpable conflict existed between Act 1 and the one-object rule of La. Const. art. III, section 15. Because the district court pretermitted consideration of the other constitutional arguments raised by plaintiffs, i.e., that Act 1 violated due process rights pursuant to La. Const. art. I, section 2, and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the case was remanded for consideration of those issues. View "Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. Louisiana" on Justia Law

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In a declaratory judgment action before the Supreme Court, the issue for review concerned the validity of two legislative instruments enacted during the 2012 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 99 (SCR 99) and 2012 La. Acts 2 (Act 2 or "Act"), each of which addressed funding and a mechanism for the state to pay for the tuition costs of elementary and secondary school students physically attending, or otherwise undertaking individual course work, from nonpublic schools. SCR 99 and Act 2 were challenged on constitutional grounds, the underlying argument was that those legislative instruments diverted funds constitutionally reserved for public schools. Upon review of the record, the instruments themselves and the constitutional provisions at issue, the Supreme Court agreed with the district court that once funds are dedicated to the state’s Minimum Foundation Program for public education, the constitution prohibits those funds from being expended on the tuition costs of nonpublic schools and nonpublic entities. Unlike the district court, the Supreme Court found the procedures employed to enact SCR 99 violated the constitution inasmuch as that legislative instrument was intended to have the effect of law, but several requirements for enacting law were not observed. Furthermore, after severing the unconstitutional provisions of Act 2, the Court held that Act 2 did not violate the constitution's "one-object" rule. View "Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. Louisiana" on Justia Law

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During its 2010 Regular Session, the Louisiana Legislature enacted Act 749 (Act), comprising La. Rev. Stat. 17:4041 through 17:4049, known as the "Red Tape Reduction and Local Empowerment Waiver Program." The Act authorized the Board of Secondary and Elementary Education ("BESE") to grant waivers exempting school districts and individual schools from complying with a number of statutes provided for in Title 17, the Education Code. Under the Act, a waiver could not be presented to BESE "unless a majority of the classroom teachers employed in the school, voting by secret ballot, vote in favor of inclusion of such school in the waiver request." At this point, no waiver had been granted under the Act, or even requested. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers and others (collectively "LFT") filed a petition for declaratory judgment against the State of Louisiana and BESE, seeking a judgment declaring Act 749 unconstitutional. In particular, LFT sought to enjoin Defendants from applying and enforcing La. Rev. Stat. 17:4041(7). Upon review of the facts in record, the Supreme Court concluded that the constitutional challenge presented in this case was premature and presented no justiciable controversy. Therefore the Court reversed the ruling of the trial court which held Act 749 unconstitutional. View "Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. Louisiana" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a writ application to determine whether a school board had tort liability for expelling a high school student after a fifth-sized bottle of whiskey fell from the student's backpack and broke on the classroom floor. The student claimed he was denied due process in the disciplinary proceedings that resulted in his expulsion. The district court agreed and awarded the student $50,000. Upon review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court found that the student presented no evidence whatsoever of being denied due process at the school board hearing. Finding the student failed to carry his burden of proof to show a denial of due process by the school board, the Court reversed the judgment of the district court. View "Christy v. McCalla" on Justia Law