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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ind. Decisions - Much more on the ND Ind. decision in T.V. et al. v. Smith-Green Community Schools

Updating a long list of earlier ILB entries, which already include several by Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reporter Rebecca S. Green, add two more today:

"Slumber party suit a vanguard? Schools’ right to curb students’ speech circumscribed,", by Ms. Green, is a long and very good overview of the current status of the law re student speech, the extent of a school system's authority to reach out and control it in the internet age, and where Smith-Green Community Schools fits into the picture. It is a must read.

Also today, Green looks into another aspect of the Smith-Green case:

While a federal judge has ruled Smith-Green Community Schools violated two students’ constitutional rights, whether the school district owes them money for damages has yet to be decided.

Under the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, states possess sovereign immunity and cannot be sued without their consent. That protection, however, does not extend to local branches of government, which can be sued.

This includes cities, towns and school districts.

But attorneys for Smith-Green Community Schools argue that changes made to the way public schools are funded in Indiana now make them a functioning part of state government, and thus immune from liability. * * *

“To the extent that the plaintiffs seek money damages from (Smith-Green Community Schools), they are barred because (the schools) are arms of the state for Eleventh Amendment immunity purposes,” wrote the school’s attorneys in court documents.

Smith-Green’s argument has been raised in other cases.

The case of Amber Parker v. Franklin County Community Schools Corporation is still being considered by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

The case stems from alleged violations of Title IX against a number of school districts and the Indiana High School Athletic Association, but the court is to decide whether school corporations are part of the state.

Another case was already decided at the district court level in favor of Franklin County Community Schools.

In Long v. Turner, a case that stemmed from a school-ordered drug test of a student suspected of marijuana use, attorneys for Franklin County Community Schools argued, as do Smith-Green’s attorneys, that the changes to school funding make the school district an entity that cannot be sued.

Recognizing that U.S. District Courts do not have the ability to set precedent or to set a legal rule, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker ruled in favor of Franklin County Community Schools, according to her order.

She wrote that given the current funding structure, which makes the school corporation unable to raise additional revenue independent of the state, the school corporation is financially dependent on the state, making it immune from being sued in that particular case.

When U.S. District Chief Judge Philip P. Simon of the Northern District of Indiana issued his ruling this month in the case against Smith-Green Community Schools, he held off making a ruling about whether the school was part of state government for the purposes of immunity.

When the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals makes its ruling in the Parker v. Franklin County Community Schools case, Simon said he would rule in the Smith-Green case, according to court documents.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 21, 2011 01:43 PM
Posted to Ind Fed D.Ct. Decisions