Ladies room and mens roomThe extension of civil rights protections to transgender and gender non-conforming individuals is rapidly evolving.  These issues are playing out in schools across the country, and a recent Seventh Circuit decision seems to suggest that transgender students will be afforded Title IX and Fourteenth Amendment protections.

In Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School Dist. No. 1., No. 16-3522, 2017 WL 2331751 (7th Cir. 2017) the Seventh Circuit affirmed a Wisconsin District Court’s decision granting a transgender student a preliminary injunction to use the bathroom that corresponds with his gender identity, rather than his biological sex.  Continue Reading 7th Circuit Orders School District to Allow Transgender Student Access to Restroom that Corresponds with Student’s Gender Identity, Not Biological Sex

American football players in action on stadiumSchools 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

Supreme Court SunriseIn yesterday’s unanimous decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, the Supreme Court articulated the standard by which federal courts should evaluate challenges to individualized education programs (“IEPs”) for students with disabilities.  To pass muster under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), an IEP, according to the Court, must be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”  Op. at 14-15.

The IDEA specifically requires that students with disabilities receive a “free appropriate public education” (“FAPE”), a term that is itself undefined in the statute.  The Supreme Court initially faced the interpretation of the FAPE requirement thirty-five years ago in Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District, Westchester County v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982).  In Rowley, the Court made some general observations about the FAPE standard, but confined its ruling to the specific facts of the case, leaving the question of what substantive standard applies to another day. Continue Reading Supreme Court Clarifies Special Education Standards

question-marksiStock_000015706066_LargeIt 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

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos recently provided some clarifications on the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and released an updated template for the consolidated state plans. The hope, Secretary DeVos said, is that the updated template “ensures greater flexibility for state and local education leaders to do what they know is best for children, while also maintaining important protections for economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, and English learners.” Continue Reading ESSA Accountability Regulations: Where Do We Stand?

The President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released: America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again. The Budget Blueprint provides an overview of the President’s budget priorities for fiscal year 2018.

With respect to education overall, the Budget Blueprint proposes $59 billion in funding for the U.S. Department of Education (ED). This would represent a $9 billion (or 13%) reduction from the current funding level. Among the few proposed increases in the face of such massive cuts are measures to promote school choice at the K-12 level.

Continue Reading How Does President Trump’s Budget Blueprint Propose to Impact K-12 Education?

Gavel On Rainbow FlagAs we noted was a possible outcome in our prior analysis of the Trump Administration’s withdrawal of the Obama-era guidance on facilities use by transgender students, the Supreme Court has remanded Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. without issuing a decision.  Prior to this remand order, the Court was set to decide whether Title IX required schools to allow access to sex-segregated facilities according to each student’s “internal sense of gender” as opposed to their “biological gender,” as specified in the school policy at issue.  The Supreme Court’s views on that topic will remain unknown until (and if) the Court elects to review another case presenting the same question. To learn more, please visit our Higher Education Legal Insights blog.

Family paper chainOn February 22, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its opinion in Fry ex rel. E.F. v. Napoleon Community SchoolsFry addresses the circumstances in which parents must exhaust the administrative remedies found in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), when their lawsuit purports to assert claims only under other federal discrimination statutes—namely, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  The Court held, unanimously, that parents must exhaust IDEA’s administrative procedures only when the “substance, or gravamen, of the plaintiff’s complaint” seeks relief for the denial of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Continue Reading Supreme Court Clarifies Administrative Exhaustion Requirements Under IDEA

immigrationPapers454172307Schools and districts are being inundated with parental questions about how their schools will respond to inquiries or visits from immigration officials.  To best answer, schools and districts should plan ahead.  These are complicated legal, political and educational questions.  We highlight some key issues below.  For a fuller discussion of the legal issues in particular, check out the pamphlet that one of us wrote for the National School Boards Association.   Husch Blackwell clients and members of the Council of the Great City Schools may also want to participate in our March 23, 2017 webinar on the legal rights of immigrant students. Continue Reading Immigration fears in K-12 schools: Questions to ask when planning to respond to immigration officials

200275123-001In a joint letter issued February 22, 2017, the Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ) withdrew prior Title IX guidance from the Obama administration that required schools receiving federal funding to allow students to use sex-segregated facilities according to their gender identity, as opposed to their anatomical birth sex. To learn more, please visit our Higher Education Legal Insights blog.