This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer. The Court considered whether excluding churches from an otherwise neutral and secular aid program administered by a state agency violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The Court held a Missouri program funding safety material for playgrounds at public and on non-secular private institutions but not religious ones violated the rights of Trinity Lutheran under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by denying the church an otherwise available public benefit on account of its religious status. Continue Reading Update: Supreme Court Issues Decision in Favor of Trinity Lutheran Church
On June 8, 2017, Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, sent a memorandum to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights regional directors, outlining immediate changes to the investigative practices to be used when investigating alleged violations of civil rights by public school districts in the United States. The memorandum applies to pending complaints and newly filed complaints, but does not apply to complaints previously resolved by OCR. Continue Reading Change is Upon Us: Trump Administration’s OCR Issues Memorandum Regarding Changes to Investigation Practices
Schools may have fewer choices in purchasing cheerleading uniforms in the future. Varsity Brands, Inc. (“Varsity”) and Star Athletica, LLC (“Star”) have been battling over the design of cheerleading uniforms and whether the designs of the uniforms are protectable under the Copyright Act. For background information about the case, please view my previous blog post.
On March 22, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc. (Case No. 15-866) that Varsity’s designs might be eligible for trade secret protections. The Court found that decorative elements of cheerleading uniforms could be protected by copyright law if they “can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article.” Continue Reading Supreme Court Finds Stripes and Zigzags Eligible for Copyright Protection
It has been over one month since Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the Senate. Secretary DeVos and the Trump Administration have already had a lot of impact on schools during the past month in office, including withdrawing Obama-Era Transgender Guidance and providing guidance on consolidated state plans related to the Every Student Succeeds Act.
However, one item on Secretary DeVos’ agenda that she has not accomplished—identifying a nominee for the important position of Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights. This person ultimately would head the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), including its twelve offices nationwide. Continue Reading Playing the Waiting Game: Trump Administration Has Yet to Nominate an Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
Yesterday, the U.S. Senate, by a narrow vote of 51-50, confirmed President Trump’s nomination for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, Betsy DeVos. Initially, the vote was a 50-50 tie. All 48 Democratic Senators opposed the nomination, and two Republican Senators, Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) who both sit on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, joined the opposition. However, Vice President Michael Pence, as President of the Senate, came to DeVos’ rescue and cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of her nomination. This was the first time a cabinet level nominee was confirmed by the vote of the Vice President. Continue Reading VP Pence Swoops in to Break Tie in DeVos Confirmation
Newly elected Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has announced that K-12 education reform will be one of his top priorities. He has called for more prudent use of public funds, and for a broader range of educational options for parents. The Missouri General Assembly has answered the call with a slew of bills addressing everything from education savings accounts to technical certification programs in high-schools. It is too soon to tell which, if any, of the bills will become law, but the sheer volume of “education reform” legislation moving through the process speaks volumes about the general assembly’s appetite for reform. Recent legislative activity includes:
- Senate Bill 32, sponsored by Sen. Ed Emery (R-Lamar), would create Education Savings Accounts for students with learning, development or physical disabilities. Sen Emery presented a revised version during a hearing before the Senate Government Reform Committee which would include all students in Missouri. Beginning on or after January 1, 2017, a taxpayer may make a qualifying contribution to an educational assistance organization and claim a tax credit. Educational assistance organizations must meet certain requirements. The tax credit is capped at $25 million; funds are administered by the State Treasurer and distributed through education assistance programs that will award the funds to parents of qualified students through a debit account. Many education groups voiced their oppositions to the measure citing lack of funding for the current foundation formula, lack of financial oversight of the schools receiving the funds, and lack of accountability. Opponents testified schools receiving funds should be held to the same standards as public schools.
Amidst the flurry of post-election political news and speculation about K-12 education policy over the next four years, supporters of diverse public schools should not overlook two opportunities to garner federal financial support for their efforts. In its last months the Obama administration has set in motion two competitive grant programs designed to promote efforts to encourage racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse enrollments in public schools. Continue Reading Parting Gifts to Proponents of Public Schools with Diverse Enrollments
The U.S. Department of Education recently released two reports spotlighting the achievements and challenges of its Office for Civil Rights (OCR). During an event with U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon the Department released two reports touting OCR’s achievements. Continue Reading Sunset of the Obama Administration and Dawn of the Trump Administration: OCR Complaints Skyrocket During 2016
What makes a cheerleading uniform, a cheerleading uniform? Stripes? Zigzags? What turns a person in a crop top and skirt into a recognizable cheerleader? These are the questions that the United States Supreme Court will likely address in Star Athletica LLC v. Varsity Brands Inc. (Case No. 15-866), which it granted certiorari on May 2, 2016.
The case started when Varsity Brands, Inc. (“Varsity”) believed that Star Athletica, LLC (“Star”) was selling cheerleading uniforms very similar to Varsity’s. Varsity has multiple copyrights on graphic designs that appear on its cheerleading uniforms and warm ups. Star, however, does not believe that the graphic designs for cheerleading uniforms can be protected under the Copyright Act. Continue Reading Stripes and Zigzags: Supreme Court to Determine Copyrights on the Designs of Cheerleading Uniforms
On December 1, 2016, millions of American workers were expecting to become eligible for overtime pursuant to the new Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) overtime regulations enacted by the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”). Employers had prepared to put the new rules in place and some had even preemptively adjusted employee policies and salaries in anticipation of the new rules taking effect. However, on November 22, 2016, in a surprising ruling, U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant in Texas blocked the new rules from taking effect by granting a nationwide preliminary injunction which was sought by 21 states and a number of business groups. Continue Reading Hold Your Horses: Texas Judge Blocks New DOL Rule Regarding Overtime and Minimum Salaries