On February 26, 2019, the Supreme Court of Missouri issued an en banc opinion in R.M.A. v. Blue Springs Sch. Dist., No. SC96683.  The court held that a transgender student who was barred from using the boys’ locker room had stated a valid cause of action for sex discrimination in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act (“MHRA”).

R.M.A., a female to male transgender student, attended school in Blue Springs R-IV School District (“BSSD”).  R.M.A. filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (“MCHR”) in October 2014 alleging discrimination in a public accommodation based on sex.  R.M.A. alleged that he lives as a male, has changed his legal name to a traditionally male name, and presents himself as male to all faculty, staff, and other students in the School District.  R.M.A. alleged that BBSD had permitted him to participate in boys’ physical education class, boys’ football, and boys’ track, but that he had not been permitted to use the boys’ locker room or bathroom based on his sex and gender identity.
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On January 7, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari in Ferguson-Florissant School District v. Missouri Conference of NAACP.  This case involves the Ferguson-Florissant School District (“FFSD”), a St. Louis area school district created after a 1975 desegregation order required the original FFSD to annex two neighboring school districts “to achieve a meaningful desegregation” within one unified district. United States v. Missouri, 515 F.2d 1365, 1366 (8th Cir. 1975) (en banc).

This lawsuit challenged FFSD’s method of electing school board members. The suit alleged that the at-large, popular vote, system, in which people only vote once for a candidate, was racially biased against African-American candidates.  This lawsuit was originally filed in 2014, when six of the seven school board members were Caucasian, even though about four-fifths of FFSD’s student population was African-American and approximately fifty percent of its voting age population was African-American.
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The United States Supreme Court abandoned its longstanding physical presence nexus standard for sales/use tax collection previously decided in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992) and National Bella Hess Inc. v. Department of Revenue of Illinois, 386 U.S. 753 (1967) with a decision announced last week in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. et al.  Following South Dakota v. Wayfair, remote sellers with no physical presence in a state, but with substantial virtual and economic presence, can be compelled to collect sales/use tax without violating the commerce clause.
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On October 4, 2017, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) agreed to drop its lawsuit against the state of Illinois over education funding distribution. The lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed by CPS without prejudice, meaning that CPS could still choose to re-file the case at a later date. Filed on February 14, 2017, by five families, the suit claimed that Illinois had violated the civil rights of students by distributing fewer funds to Chicago public schools than other public districts across the state. CPS alleged that only 76 cents were spent on Chicago students for every dollar spent on children in public schools outside of the city leading to a $500 million funding gap for Chicago public schools.

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In Krueger v. Appleton Area School Dist. Bd. of Educ., No. 2015AP231, 2017 WI 70, (Wis. 2017), a parent of a child who attended school in the Appleton Area School District (District) alleged that a school board advisory committee meeting was improperly closed because it was a governmental body subject to Wisconsin’s open meetings law.  Reversing the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, the Wisconsin Supreme Court concluded that the committee meeting improperly excluded the public from attending.
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playground117320779This 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.
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Abstract sunny spring backgroundIn Chicago Tribune v. The College of DuPage and The College of DuPage Foundation, the Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District issued a unanimous decision ordering a public college’s fundraising organization to release records in its possession pursuant to a state Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA,” a.k.a. “sunshine law”) request.  The Court in this case held that the College’s separately incorporated foundation conducts government business on its behalf and therefore is subject to the Illinois FOIA laws.
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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. 
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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.”
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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.
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