Articles Posted in Education Law

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At issue was whether a private university that operates a state-authorized police department is a “governmental unit” for purposes of Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 51.014(a)(8), which provides for an interlocutory appeal from an order that “grants or denies a plea to the jurisdiction by a governmental unit.” The private university in this case was the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW), and the case arose from an UIW officer’s use of deadly force following a traffic stop. The parents of the UIW student killed in the incident sued UIW for their son’s death. UIW raised governmental immunity as a defense and asked the trial court to dismiss the suit in a plea to the jurisdiction. The trial court denied the plea. UIW took an interlocutory appeal under section 51.014(a)(8). The court of appeals dismissed the appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that UIW is a governmental unit for purposes of law enforcement and is therefore entitled to pursue an interlocutory appeal under section 51.014(a)(8). View "University of the Incarnate Word v. Redus" on Justia Law

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Wallace Hall, a regent for The University of Texas System, filed suit against William McRaven in his official capacity as the System’s Chancellor, for McRaven’s refusal to grant Hall complete access to records containing student-admissions information. Hall sought a declaratory judgment that McRaven acted ultra vires in refusing to provide the unredacted information. The trial court granted McRaven’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the case with prejudice, concluding that McRaven’s conduct was not ultra vires and that sovereign immunity required dismissal. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that McRaven did not exceed his authority, and therefore, Hall’s case was properly dismissed. View "Hall v. McRaven" on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law

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Michael and Laura McIntyre, along with their children that were homeschooled, were criminally charged with contributing to truancy and failure to attend school. The McIntyres sued the District and its attendance officer, alleging that Defendants violated the McIntyres’ rights under both the Texas Constitution and United States Constitution. The District filed pleas, exceptions, and motions arguing that the McIntyres failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. The attendance officer invoked qualified immunity. The trial court denied relief. The court of appeals reversed in part and (1) dismissed the McIntyres’ state-law claims against the District and its attendance officer for the McIntyres’ failure to “exhaust their administrative remedies, and (2) dismissed the federal-law claims against the attendance officer based on qualified immunity. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals to the extent it dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims based on qualified immunity; but (2) reversed the judgment insofar as it dismissed the McIntyres’ claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, holding the Texas Education Code does not require administrative appeals when a person is allegedly aggrieved by violations of laws other than the state’s school laws, such as the state and federal Constitutions. View "McIntyre v. El Paso Indep. Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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More than half of the State’s school districts and various entities and individuals brought this school funding challenge arguing, among other things, that the current school finance system violates the adequacy and suitability requirements of Tex. Const. art. VII, 1. The trial court declared the school system constitutionally inadequate, unsuitable and financially inefficient in violation of Article VII, section 1, that the system is unconstitutional as a statewide ad valorem tax in violation of Tex. Const. art. VIII, 1(e), and that the system does not meet constitutional adequacy and suitability requirements for two subgroups of students. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the current school funding regime meets minimum constitutional requirements, despite its imperfections. View "Morath v. Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition" on Justia Law

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Three parents of children who attend schools within the Clint Independent School District filed suit alleging that the District unconstitutionally distributes its funds among the schools within the District. The trial court dismissed the suit, concluding that the Parents failed to exhaust their administrative remedies before filing suit. The court reversed, concluding that Texas law did not require the Parents to exhaust administrative remedies because their claims were solely for violations of their children’s state constitutional rights. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction, holding that Tex. Educ. Code Ann. 7.057(a) requires the Parents to exhaust their administrative remedies before they can seek relief in the courts. View "Clint Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Marquez" on Justia Law

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Middle school and high school cheerleaders, through their parents, sued Kountze Independent School District after the District prohibited them from displaying banners at school-sponsored events containing religious messages or signs. The District filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting mootness in light of its subsequent adoption of a resolution providing that the District was not required to prohibit religious messages on school banners. The trial court denied the District’s plea. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Plaintiffs’ claims for declaratory and injunctive relief were moot because the District voluntarily discontinued its prohibition on the display of banners containing religious messages or signs. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the resolution only states that the District is not required to prohibit the cheerleaders from displaying religious messages on school banners and reserves to the District discretion in regulating those banners, this case was not moot, as the challenged conduct might reasonably be expected to recur. Remanded. View "Matthews v. Kountze Indep. Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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The Texas Student Housing Authority (TSHA) had title to the Cambridge at College Station, a student-residential facility near two college campuses. In the summers of 2005 to 2008, TSHA provided lodging at the Cambridge to non-college students attending university-sponsored instructional programs. The Brazos County Appraisal District (BCAD) voided TSHA’s property-tax-exempt status for the years 2005 to 2008 and assessed millions of dollars of back taxes. The trial court affirmed, concluding that TSHA forfeited the exemption once the Cambridge hosted people who were not students, faculty or staff members of an institution of higher learning. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that TSHA did not forfeit its exemption under Tex. Educ. Code Ann. 53.46 by housing summer program participants at the Cambridge because the statute imposes no conditions but rather declares the property-tax exemption in absolute terms. View "Tex. Student Housing Auth. v. Brazos County Appraisal Dist." on Justia Law

Posted in: Education Law, Tax Law

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Plaintiff, a professor at the University of Houston, sued the University under the Texas Whistleblower Act. Plaintiff alleged that the University retaliated against him for reporting that his supervisor violated state civil and criminal law and internal administrative policies located in the University's System administrative Memorandum (SAM). The trial court rendered judgment in favor of Plaintiff. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the trial court had subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim because the SAM's administrative policies constitute "law" under the Whistleblower Act. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, holding (1) the SAM's administrative rules do not fall within the definition of "law" under the Whistleblower Act because there is no evidence the University's Board of Regents enacted the SAM's administrative rules pursuant to authority granted to it in the Texas Education Code; (2) there was no evidence that Plaintiff had an objectively reasonable belief that his reports of the alleged violations of state civil and criminal law were made to an appropriate law enforcement authority; and (3) therefore, the University's sovereign immunity was not waived in this case. View "Univ. of Houston v. Barth" on Justia Law

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LTTS Charter School ("LTTS") was an open-enrollment school that retained C2 Construction, Inc. ("C2") to build school facilities at a site Universal Academy had leased. C2 filed a breach of contract suit and Universal Academy filed a plea to the jurisdiction claiming immunity from suit. The trial court denied the plea and Universal Academy brought an interlocutory appeal under Section 51.014(a)(8) of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code. In the court of appeals, C2 moved to dismiss the interlocutory appeal, arguing that Universal Academy was note entitled to one because it was not a governmental unit under the Torts Claims Act ("Act"), Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code 101.001(3)(D). At issue was whether an open-enrollment charter school was a governmental unit as defined by Section 101.001(3)(D) and thus, able to take an interlocutory appeal from a trial court's denial of its plea to the jurisdiction. The court held that open-enrollment charter schools were governmental units for the Act purposes because the Act defined government unit broadly to include any other institution, agency, or organ of government derived from state law; the Education Code defined open-enrollment charters schools as part of the public school system, which were created in accordance with the laws of the state, subject to state laws and rules governing public schools and, together with governmental traditional public schools, have the primary responsibility for implementing the state's system of public education; and the Legislature considered open-enrollment charter schools to be governmental entities under a host of other laws outside the Education Code. Accordingly, because Universal Academy was a governmental unit under the Act, the court of appeals had jurisdiction to hear its interlocutory appeal under Section 51.014(a)(8). View "LTTS Charter School, Inc. v. C2 Construction, Inc." on Justia Law