Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law

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The Washington South Education Association was the representative of all licensed teachers within the Northfield schools. The Northfield School Board and the Association negotiated and entered into the CBA, which was in effect from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018. Paul Clayton was a middle-school physical-education teacher at the Northfield Middle High School (the School) and was a member of the Association. Therefore, Clayton’s employment was subject to the CBA. In late fall 2017, administrators at the School received complaints about Clayton’s workplace conduct. The complaints alleged that Clayton created a hostile work environment by intimidating his colleagues and advised a student (his daughter) to punch another student in the face. In response to the allegations, Clayton was placed on paid leave while the administrators investigated the complaints and interviewed a number of the School’s staff. Upon the conclusion of their investigation, the administrators wrote a letter to the School’s superintendent describing their findings and noting that while they gave Clayton the opportunity to respond, Clayton declined to respond in a follow-up meeting and then a second meeting scheduled to receive his rebuttal a few days later. After receiving the administrators’ letter, the superintendent wrote a letter to Clayton offering him an opportunity to meet with her to discuss the matter, and attached to the letter a summary of the allegations against Clayton. About a week later, the superintendent met with Clayton and his Association representation. Clayton did not file a notice of appeal of his ultimate suspension. Shortly thereafter, Clayton and the Association, now represented by the Vermont affiliate of the National Education Association (Vermont-NEA), submitted a grievance alleging a violation the CBA. The Board declined to accept the grievance, noting Clayton did not follow the prescribed termination procedures outlined in the CBA. Vermont-NEA thereafter invoked the CBA's arbitration procedures. A trial court agreed with the Board, and Clayton and the Association appealed. The Vermont Supreme Court determined Clayton and the Association failed to exhaust statutory remedies as required by 16 V.S.A. 1752, thus the trial court properly enjoined arbitration. View "Northfield School Board v. Washington South Education Association" on Justia Law

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Mother appealed an order concluding that her children were children in need of care or supervision (CHINS) due to educational neglect. In April 2018, the State filed a petition alleging that B.C., born in January 2007, Bo.B., born in May 2012, and Br.B., born in April 2013, were CHINS for lack of proper education necessary for their well-being. B.C. had been referred to an educational support team because she was not meeting certain achievement levels in her educational program. In prior years, there had been three educational neglect/truancy assessments involving B.C. In January 2018, the assistant principal reported to the Department for Children and Families (DCF) that B.C. had missed twenty-two days and Bo.B. had missed thirty-two days of school and all absences were unexcused. By March 2018, B.C. and Bo.B. had missed thirty-eight and fifty days of school, respectively. DCF contacted mother, who asserted that the absences were occurring because she was not receiving sufficient support from the school, the children were often absent due to illness, and transportation was a barrier. When asked, mother did not appear to understand the details of Bo.B.’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). DCF set up a plan to implement services through NCSS in March, however, mother cancelled the meeting. The court found that the three children were CHINS due to the parents’ inability to provide for the children’s educational needs. The court found that the children’s absences resulted in missed educational opportunities that put them at risk of harm, especially in light of their needs. On appeal, mother argued: (1) the court erred in not requiring the State to demonstrate that the children’s absences were without justification; (2) the evidence did not support the court’s finding that missing school caused the children harm; (3) the existence of IEPs for the two young children, who were not legally required to attend school, did not support a finding of educational neglect; and (4) the court erred in admitting the school attendance records. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed as to B.C. and reversed and remanded the CHINS determinations as to Bo.B. and Br.B. "[T]he evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that Bo.B. and Br.B. were at risk of harm for educational neglect given that they were not required to attend school and mother could discontinue the services related to their IEPs without any presumption of neglect." View "In re B.B., B.C., and B.B., Juveniles" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed a trial court’s order granting defendants’ motion for summary judgment on their negligence claims. Plaintiffs were Jordan Preavy’s mother, Tracy Stopford, in her individual capacity and as administrator of his estate, and his father, Sean Preavy. They alleged their son tcommitted suicide as a result of being assaulted by some of his teammates on the Milton High School football team, which, according to plaintiffs, the school negligently failed to prevent. On appeal, plaintiffs argued the court did not properly apply the summary judgment standard nor the appropriate duty of care and that it erred when it concluded that plaintiffs failed to prove that the assault was foreseeable and that it was the proximate cause of Jordan’s suicide. Further, plaintiffs argued the court improperly imposed a monetary sanction on their attorney after finding that he engaged in a prohibited ex parte communication with defendants’ expert witness. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Stopford v. Milton Town School District" on Justia Law

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A group of residents in South Burlington, Vermont presented a petition for a district-wide vote on whether to reinstate "Rebels" as the name for the District's athletic teams after the South Burlington School District decided to change the name. The District refused to include the item in a district-wide vote and residents appealed, alleging that the District violated their rights under the Vermont Constitution and seeking an order compelling the District to include the item on the ballot. The trial court denied the District’s motion to dismiss, concluding that residents presented sufficient facts to support their request. The District then filed this interlocutory appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that neither the applicable statutes nor the Vermont Constitution compelled the District to put the petitions to a district-wide vote. Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court’s order and remanded for entry of judgment for the District. View "Skiff, Jr. v. South Burlington School District" on Justia Law

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"J.H." appealed an adjudication that she was a child in need of care and supervision (CHINS) for being "habitually and without justification truant from compulsory school attendance." J.H. contended: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support the findings; and (2) the court improperly shifted the burden of proof on the question of whether she was habitually truant "without justification." The only witness was a Bennington County deputy sheriff who testified that he served as the County's truancy officer. The officer testified that he ended up transporting J.H. to school on two subsequent days in January. On the third occasion, the officer served a "truancy notice," the purpose of which was to warn a parent or guardian that a truancy case could be brought if their child is continually absent. The officer went to the home twice more in January (the fourth and fifth visits that month) but there was no response from anyone at the residence. At the conclusion of the officer's testimony, J.H.'s counsel moved to dismiss the petition, asserting that the evidence was insufficient to establish that J.H. was habitually truant. The trial court denied the motion, finding that five truancy reports within "a matter of weeks . . . meet[s] the definition of being habitually not at school."  The court also observed it had "no evidence . . . of justification for [J.H.] not being in school." Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed that the record evidence was fundamentally insufficient to establish that J.H. was truant on the days alleged. "Inasmuch as the evidence here was plainly insufficient under [33 V.S.A. 5102(3)(D)], we are compelled to conclude that the adjudication of CHINS based on truancy must be reversed." View "In re J. H." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed a superior court order affirming the University of Vermont's denial of his application for in-state tuition status. He raised a host of challenges to the court's ruling, arguing primarily that it was inconsistent with the court's finding that plaintiff was domiciled in Vermont. Plaintiff moved to Vermont in 2007 to enroll as an undergraduate at the University of Vermont ("University" or "UVM"). He paid the out-of-state tuition rate through the first three years of his undergraduate studies, and first applied for in-state tuition status in June 2010. In his application he stated that, although he first came to Vermont to attend UVM, he chose to permanently relocate to Vermont because he loved the area and intended to reside in Burlington after graduating. UVM denied the application, citing several pertinent provisions of UVM's In-State Status Regulations. In his administrative appeal, plaintiff reiterated that he came to UVM because of the reputation of its pre-medical program and medical school, and he explained that during his freshman year he was accepted into a premedical program that leads to automatic acceptance to UVM medical school for students who complete the program. Plaintiff also explained that, although he needed only one more course to complete his graduation requirements, he was seeking in-state tuition status to enable him to take additional electives in the fall of 2010 and spring of 2011 to become "a more diversified medical school applicant." UVM denied his administrative appeal. In light of the review standards the University used in denying Plaintiff's appeal, the Supreme Court concluded Plaintiff's reliance on the superior court's "finding" was misplaced: "[f]or our purposes here, the critical findings are those of the University, not the trial court. UVM was the adjudicator of the facts in this matter, and the record is clear that it employed the original version of Regulation 3, which both parties agree governed plaintiff's application." Moreover, UVM made no finding as to plaintiff's common-law domicile, but rather concluded on the basis of its review of the record that plaintiff did not establish by clear and convincing evidence that he was eligible for in-state tuition. The Court concluded that the record contained ample competent evidence to support the University's determination, and affirmed the superior court's judgment. View "Roberts v. University of Vermont" on Justia Law