Articles Posted in Education Law

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A non-negligently constructed and maintained piece of playground equipment cannot be a “dangerous condition” under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act’s recreation-area waiver. Nine-year-old Alexa Loveland fell while using her elementary school playground’s zip line apparatus and severely fractured her wrist and forearm. Alexa and her parents filed a tort action against the school district, seeking damages for Alexa’s injuries. Because the Colorado legislature limited when public entities such as the school district may be sued, the issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review was whether the Lovelands’ lawsuit fell within one of the limited exceptions to sovereign immunity under the Act. The Supreme Court concluded the facts as the Lovelands have alleged them, did not satisfy the dangerous-condition requirement, and that the trial court was correct to conclude the recreation-area waiver did not apply. View "St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J v. Loveland" on Justia Law

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Between 2010 and 2012, the Board of Education of School District No. 1 (“DPS Board”) approved and implemented innovation plans at eleven schools under the Innovation Schools Act of 2008 (“ISA”). Most of these schools were created to replace failing schools within the Denver Public Schools District (“DPS”). All of the schools were “new,” in that they had not previously been opened as non-innovation schools and had new names, new identification numbers, and employed only a principal and, in some cases, one or two other administrative employees, but had no students, teachers, or other employees at the time their innovation plans were approved. This case presented an issue for the Supreme Court’s review of whether the ISA precluded a local school board from approving an innovation plan submitted by a “new” innovation school. The Court held that the ISA did not preclude approval of innovation plans from such “new” innovation schools. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Denver School Dist. v. Denver Classroom Teachers Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Cathy Ritzert had worked as a teacher for more than twenty years. She worked for the Air Academy High School, part of the Academy School District No. 20. A student's parents complained about Ritzert, and the District placed her on administrative leave, telling her they would recommend dismissal unless she resigned. Ritzert refused. Several months passed without the District making good on its threat to fire her. Ritzert eventually took a new job teaching special needs students in a neighboring district, claiming she did this to mitigate her damages. She still wanted the District to prove it had a legitimate basis for terminating her, so she again refused to quit. The District responded by ordering Ritzert to report to work as a floating substitute. When Ritzert did not comply, the District initiated formal dismissal proceedings, claiming in part that her refusal to return to work constituted insubordination. A hearing officer recommended that Ritzert be retained, finding in part that the District's insubordination allegation was pretextual and unreasonable under the circumstances. The Board dismissed Ritzert for insubordination anyway, making no comment about the complaint that triggered placing her on leave in the first place. Upon review of this matter, the Colorado Supreme Court held that under the Teacher Employment, Compensation and Dismissal Act of 1990 (TECDA), the School Board's order must be fully warranted by the hearing officer's evidentiary findings of fact. Because the Board here "abdicated" that responsibility here, the Court concluded that its decision to dismiss Ritzert for insubordination on the facts of this case was arbitrary and capricious. The Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded this case to the Board to reinstate Ritzert. View "Ritzert v. Board of Education" on Justia Law

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The Douglas County School District implemented its Choice Scholarship Pilot Program (CSP), a program that awarded taxpayer-funded scholarships to qualifying elementary, middle, and high school students. Those students could use their scholarships to help pay their tuition at partnering private schools, including religious schools. Following a lawsuit from Douglas County taxpayers, the trial court found that the CSP violated the Public School Finance Act of 1994, as well as various provisions of the Colorado Constitution. The trial court permanently enjoined implementation of the CSP. The court of appeals reversed, holding that: (1) Petitioners lacked standing to sue under the Act; and (2)the CSP did not violate the Colorado Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the CSP comported with both the Act and the Colorado Constitution. After review, the Court held that Petitioners lacked standing to challenge the CSP under the Act. Further, the CSP violated article IX, section 7 of the Colorado Constitution. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals' judgment and remanded the case to that court with instructions to remand back to the trial court so that the trial court could reinstate its order permanently enjoining the CSP. View "Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas Cty. Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs initiated this action in 2005 for declaratory and injunctive relief. They claimed that the current Colorado public school financing system violated the Education Clause because the system failed to provide sufficient funding to support a "thorough and uniform" system of free public schools. Plaintiffs also claimed that local school districts' lack of sufficient financial resources, coupled with the system's restrictions on spending, prevented districts from exerting meaningful control over educational instruction and quality in violation of the Local Control Clause. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the public school financing system complied with the Colorado Constitution, and reversed the trial court's finding that the public school financing system was unconstitutional. View "Colorado v. Lobato" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the Supreme Court reviewed a court of appeals' opinion in "Churchill v. Univ. of Colo. at Boulder," whereby the underlying civil action involved claims brought by Professor Ward Churchill pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 after his tenured employment was terminated by the Board of Regents of the University of Colorado. Churchill alleged that the Regents violated his constitutionally protected free speech rights by initiating an investigation into his academic integrity and by terminating his tenured employment in retaliation for his publication of a controversial essay. Churchill sought both compensatory and equitable relief. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Churchill's termination claim on grounds that the Regents' quasi-judicial actions were entitled to absolute immunity. It also affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Churchill's claim for equitable remedies because it concluded that such remedies were not available in a Section 1983 action against quasi-judicial officials. Lastly, based on its determination that allegedly retaliatory employment investigations are not actionable under Section 1983, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's directed verdict in favor of the University on Churchill's bad faith investigation claim. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed, but on different grounds: (1) the Court held that the Regents' decision to terminate Churchill's employment was a quasi-judicial action functionally comparable to a judicial process, and that the Regents were entitled to absolute immunity concerning their decision; (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it ruled that Churchill was not entitled to the equitable remedies of reinstatement and front pay; and (3) Churchill’s bad faith investigation claim was barred by qualified immunity because the Regents' investigation into Churchill's academic record does not implicate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right or law. View "Churchill v. University of Colorado at Boulder" on Justia Law

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The Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, LLC, with Martha Altman, Eric Mote, and John Davis (collectively, Students), filed a complaint against the University of Colorado's Board of Regents alleging that the Board's Weapons Control Policy 14-I (which prohibits the carrying of handguns on campus by all persons but certified law enforcement personnel) violates the Colorado Concealed Carry Act (CCA) and the Colorado Constitution's right to bear arms. The Board filed a motion to dismiss which the district court granted. The Students appealed, and the court of appeals reversed, holding that the Students stated a claim for relief because the CCA expressly applied to "all areas of the state." The court further concluded that the Students had stated a claim for relief under article II, section 13 of the Colorado Constitution, which affords individuals the right to bear arms in self-defense. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding the CCA's comprehensive statewide purpose, broad language, and narrow exclusions show that the General Assembly intended to divest the Board of Regents of its authority to regulate concealed handgun possession on campus. Accordingly, the Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals that, by alleging the Policy violated the CCA, the Students stated a claim for relief. View "Regents of the University of Colorado v. Students for Concealed Carry on Campus" on Justia Law