Supreme Court News: Parents Can Sue
School Officials for Discrimination;
Tuition Reimbursement & Strip Search Cases

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February 4, 2009

ISSN: 1538-3202

Issue: 472
Subscribers: 67,914

In This Issue:

U.S. Supreme Court Rules:
Parents Can Sue School Officials Under Discrimination Laws

Supreme Court to Revisit Tuition Reimbursement Issue

Did Strip Search Violate Student's Privacy Rights?

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U. S. Supreme CourtJanuary was a busy month at the Supreme Court!

On January 21, 2009, the Court issued a surprising decision in a case about sexual harassment of a young girl by an older classmate.

On January 16, the Court added two new education cases to the 2009 docket.


In this issue of the Special Ed Advocate, you'll learn about the unanimous decision in Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee in which the Court held that parents can sue school officials under discrimination statutes.

You'll also learn about Forest Grove School District v. T. A. a special education case about tuition reimbursement and Safford Unified School District v. Redding, a case about violation of privacy / damages on behalf of a 13 year-old girl who was strip-searched by school officials.

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U. S. Supreme Court - Parents Can Sue School Officials Under Discrimination Laws in ...

... a unanimous decision in Fitzgerald v. Barnstable

A kindergarten girl, Jacqueline, 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.


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 school superintendent.

The federal district court resolved the case in favor of the school committee and superintendent.

The parents appealed to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. This court also ruled against them.

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, read Supreme Court Issues Unanimous Decision in Fitzgerald v. Barnstable.

URL: http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/art/fitzgerald.barnstable.supct.htm

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Supreme Court Will Revisit Tuition Reimbursement ...

... in Forest Grove School District v. T. A. (08-305)

Forest Grove School District v. T. A. (9th Cir. 2008) is a special education case about tuition reimbursement for a child who was never found eligible as a "child with a disability" under IDEA or Section 504, and never received special education services from the school district.

The question presented is whether parents who unilaterally enroll their disabled child in a private school are entitled to tuition reimbursement if the child never received special education from the district.

Or ... are students with disabilities, including students with disabilities who were not identified as disabled by their school districts, required to "try" a public school's special education program before obtaining reimbursement for private school tuition under the Individuals with Disabilities Act?

Two cases on this issue came before the Supreme Court in 2007. Neither was resolved because... read more.

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Did Strip Search Violate Student's Privacy Rights?

In October 2003, school officals at the Safford School District in Arizona strip-searched a 13-year-old girl. Why? School officials had received an uncorroborated "tip" from another student that this girl possessed "prescription strength" ibuprofen (i.e. two 200 mg tablets).

Savana was an honor student who had no prior history of drug use or discipline problems. During the strip search, no drugs were found.

In 2007, a three judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a motion for summary judgement on behalf of school officials in Redding v. Safford Unified School District #1.

The child and her mother requested that the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hear their case.

In a 6-5 en banc decision, the Ninth Circuit reversed the earlier panel and held:

"... school officials violated Savana’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The strip search of Savana was neither 'justified at its inception' ... nor, as a grossly intrusive search of a middle school girl to locate pills with the potency of two over-the-counter Advil capsules, 'reasonably related in scope to the circumstances' ..."

"...the school official in charge is not entitled to qualified immunity from suit for the unconstitutional strip search of Savana."

How will the Supreme Court rule in this case? Does the pro-child decision in Fitzgerald v. Barnstable have an impact in our analysis?

Learn about Safford United School District v. Redding, read prior decisions and the questions presented.

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