Jacqueline, a kindergarten student, was sexually harassed by a third-grade boy while riding the school bus. The child’s parents brought this to the attention of school administrators immediately.
The principal offered to transfer the child to another bus. Her parents asked the school to put a monitor on the bus or transfer the boy to another bus. When the school did not accept these alternatives, the parents drove their daughter to school for the rest of the year …
Jacqueline continued to describe disturbing interactions with the boy for the remainder of the school year. Ultimately, she began missing school.
Claims Under Title IX and Section 1983
Claiming that school officials did not make adequate efforts to protect their daughter, Jacqueline’s parents filed suit in federal district court against the school’s governing body, Barnstable School Committee, and the superintendent. Their complaint included a claim for violating Title IX of the Education Act Amendments and claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983.
If a statute, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1400) provides a clear remedy for statutory violations, then the ability to sue under IDEA precludes the ability to sue using Section 1983. On a Motion for Summary Judgment, the federal district court resolved the case in favor of the school committee and superintendent. Hunter v. Barnstable School Committee, 456 F. Supp. 2d 255, 266 (Mass. 2006) explaining, in part, that Title IX provides the remedy for such a violation and not Section 1983.
The parents appealed to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. That Court ruled against the child noting that: “In this instance, the plaintiffs seek to use section 1983 to redress deprivations of both a federal statutory right (implicating Title IX) and a federal constitutional right (implicating the Equal Protection Clause). At an early stage of the litigation the district court, ruling from the bench, found these claims precluded under applicable Supreme Court doctrine.”
In 2008, with two federal court decisions against them, the parents appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
What happened next?
To learn about the surprising decision that took many legal experts by surprise, read Supreme Court Issues Unanimous Decision in Fitzgerald v. Barnstable, 555 U.S. __ (2009) at http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/art/fitzgerald.barnstable.supct.htm