Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law

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Plaintiff, a high school student, was suspended from school for conduct that took place outside of school grounds. The suspension - which was mistakenly ordered on the ground that Plaintiff had been charged with a felony - lasted an entire semester, and Plaintiff was unable to graduate with her class. Plaintiff commenced this action asserting that her suspension was unlawful. The judge allowed Defendants’ motion to dismiss on the ground that Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 72, 37H1/2 before filing her complaint. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed, holding that because the tort recovery a student may seek under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 76, 16 provides a separate and distinct remedy from that available under section 37H1/2, Plaintiff was not obligated to exhaust the statute’s administrative remedies before pursuing a tort claim under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 76, 16. View "Goodwin v. Lee Public Schools" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether settlement agreements between a public school and the parents of a public school student who requires special education are public records subject to disclosure. Plaintiff requested from Defendant school district copies of such agreements where Defendant “limited its contribution to education funding or attached conditions for it for out of district placements” for certain school years. The school district denied the request. The superior court declared that the agreements were public records and were not exempt from disclosure. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court and remanded, holding (1) the settlement agreements regarding placement of students in out-of-district private educational institutions are not “public records” under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 4, 7; but (2) the settlement agreements may be redacted to remove personally identifiable information, after which they become subject to disclosure under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 66, 10, the Massachusetts public records law. View "Champa v. Weston Public Schools" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed an action alleging that the practice by which the Nation’s pledge of allegiance is recited each morning in Defendants’ public schools violated (1) Plaintiffs’ equal protection rights under the Massachusetts Constitution because the pledge included the words “under God,” and (2) Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 76, 5, which prohibits discrimination in Massachusetts public school education. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants and the intervenors. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the recitation of the pledge, which no student is required to recite, does not violate the Constitution or the statute.View "Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Reg’l Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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A school librarian having professional teacher status was suspended for conduct deemed to be unbecoming a teacher. An arbitrator considered the merits of the suspension. Applying a “just cause” standard, the arbitrator overturned the suspension, concluding that the school district failed to meet its burden of proof. A superior court judge confirmed the arbitrator’s award. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority by reviewing the merits of the librarian’s twenty-day suspension and concluding that the school district had not met its burden of proving the alleged just cause for the suspension. View "Superintendent-Dir. of Assabet Valley Reg’l Sch. Dist. v. Speicher" on Justia Law

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The Lexington school district superintendent dismissed Mark Zagaeski, a Lexington high school teacher, from his position for conduct unbecoming a teacher. Zagaeski timely filed an appeal from the school district’s dismissal decision, which resulted in arbitration proceedings. The arbitrator (1) concluded that the school district carried its burden to show facts amounting to conduct unbecoming a teacher but that Zagaeski’s conduct only “nominally” constituted a basis for dismissal; and (2) reinstated Zagaeski as a teacher on the basis of “the best interests of the pupils.” The superior court confirmed the arbitrator’s award. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the decision of the superior court judge and vacated the arbitration award, holding that, under the facts of this case, the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority by awarding Zagaeski's reinstatement. View "Sch. Comm. of Lexington v. Zagaeski" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, doing business as Spencer Brook Strings (SBS), rented string instruments to students in the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District. In 2011, the school district invited vendors of string instruments to bid to rent instruments to the parents of children in the school district and selected Music and Arts (M&A) as the winning bid. The school district then published on school Web sites a letter advising parents that M&A was the music rental company for Concord public schools. Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that, by providing M&A with their "endorsement" and by failing to advertise SBS as a participating music rental company, Defendants had used their official positions to secure for M&A unwarranted privileges not available to similarly situated individuals in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 268A, 23(b)(2)(ii). The judge denied Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a finding of a violation of chapter 268A, 23(b)(2)(ii) by the State Ethics Commission after an adjudicatory proceeding and a request for rescission by the municipal agency were prerequisites to the filing of a complaint seeking rescission under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 268A, 23(a); and (2) neither prerequisite was met in this case. View "Leder v. Superintendent of Schs." on Justia Law

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The Bridgewater State University Foundation owns three buildings and three undeveloped parcels. One building is occupied by foundation offices and the university's alumni office; another houses the university's political science department; and the third is used by the university and the foundation for receptions and fundraising. The undeveloped parcels are used by students for recreation. None of the properties is used exclusively by the foundation. The foundation permits the university to use all the properties free of charge. The Appellate Tax Board decided that the foundation was entitled to the charitable exemption from local property taxes, G.L. c. 59, Sect. 5; the Appeals Court reversed. The Massachusetts Supreme Court concluded that the foundation is entitled to the exemption. The foundation is a public charitable trust, and it is "organized and operate[s] exclusively for the benefit of" Bridgewater State University under G.L. c. 15A, sect. 37. The foundation has qualified as a tax-exempt organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The university is an institution of public higher education and certifies that the foundation is operating "in a manner consistent with" the university's goals and policies and uses its money and assets solely for the benefit of the university. View "Bridgewater State Univ. Found. v. Bd. of Assessors of Bridgewater" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a private college, brought suit against a town and a local zoning authority (defendants), seeking, among other things, a declaration that its proposed development of residential and education facilities for older adults (Regis East) qualified for protection under the Dover Amendment, G.L.c. 40A, section 3, second par. The Dover Amendment exempted from certain local zoning laws or structures that were to be used by nonprofit educational institutions for "educational purposes." Because the court could not conclude that plaintiff "has no reasonable expectation" of demonstrating that Regis East would primarily operate in furtherance of educational purposes, the court vacated and remanded. View "Regis College v. Town of Weston & others." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed from a superior court judge's order granting defendants' motion for summary judgment on her complaint alleging violations of her state civil rights. Plaintiff contended that she had a right, secured by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and by art. 16 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, to attend a lecture that was open to the public, held on the campus of Tufts and that defendants violated the act when they excluded her from the lecture. Tufts, through its office of continuing education, presented a publicly advertised lecture on its campus entitled, "Dangers of Feeding Your Pet a Raw Diet." Plaintiff, who was an advocate of raw food diets for animals, sought to attend the lecture. At the time, she had not paid her bill for services rendered to her horse and defendants informed plaintiff that she was ineligible for continuing education services at Tufts. The court concluded that the circumstances of plaintiff's exclusion from the lecture did not amount to an interference with any claimed free speech right, and thus that the allowance of summary judgment on this claim was proper. The court also concluded that the allowance of summary judgment for defendants' on plaintiff's claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence was correct. View "Roman v. Trustees of Turfts College & others." on Justia Law

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This case concerned the way by which the costs of financing the school district were apportioned among the city of New Bedford, the town of Dartmouth, and the town of Fairhaven, which were municipalities comprising the school district. Dartmouth commenced an action in the superior court against defendants challenging the funding obligations imposed on the member municipalities by the Education Reform Act of 1993, G.L.c. 70, section 6. Fairhaven filed a cross claim asserting that the funding obligations imposed by the Act were a disproportionate tax on property and income in violation of the state constitution. The court held that the complaint filed by Dartmouth and cross claim filed by Fairhaven were properly dismissed because Dartmouth and Fairhaven failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted. View "Town of Dartmouth v. Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Tech. High Sch. Dist. & others" on Justia Law