Articles Posted in Education Law

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Plaintiff Dartmouth Corporation of Alpha Delta (Alpha Delta) appealed a Superior Court order affirming a Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) decision in favor of defendant Town of Hanover (Town). The ZBA determined that the use of Alpha Delta’s property at 9 East Wheelock Street (the property) violated the Town’s zoning ordinance. Alpha Delta has been a fraternity for students at Dartmouth College (College) since the 1840s. In 1931, the Town enacted its first zoning ordinance. At that time, Alpha Delta’s property was located in the “Educational District” in which an “[e]ducational use, or dormitory . . . incidental to and controlled by an educational institution” was permitted as of right. Between 1931 and the mid- 1970s, the property was located in various zoning districts where its use by Alpha Delta as a fraternity was allowed as of right. In 1976, the Town enacted its current zoning ordinance, under which the property was located within the “Institution” district. A student residence in the Institution district was allowed only by special exception. In 2015, the College notified Alpha Delta by letter that, due to the fraternity’s violation of the school’s standards of conduct, it had revoked recognition of the fraternity as a student organization. “Derecognition” revoked certain privileges, pertinent here was recognition as a ‘college approved’ residential facility; and use of College facilities or resources. The College notified Alpha Delta that it would be removed from the College’s rooming system under which student room rents are paid through the College, and would no longer be under the jurisdiction or protection of the College’s department of safety and security. Furthermore, the College notified the Town that Alpha Delta no longer had a relationship with Dartmouth College, and notified Alpha Delta that it was the College’s “understanding that under the Town zoning ordinance no more than three unrelated people will be allowed to reside on the property.” The Town’s zoning administrator subsequently notified Alpha Delta by letter that use of the property violated the zoning ordinance. Alpha Delta appealed, but finding none of its arguments availing, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Dartmouth Corp. of Alpha Delta v. Town of Hanover" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Kadle Properties Revocable Realty Trust (Trust), challenged the dismissal of the Trust’s appeal to the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA), filed after respondent, the City of Keene (City), denied the Trust’s application for an educational use tax exemption. The Trust owned property in Keene that included an office building. A separate, for-profit corporation, Config Systems, Incorporated (Config Systems), rented a portion of the Trust’s office building, where it offered computer classes. The Trust did not own or operate Config Systems, but Daniel Kadle, in addition to serving as trustee for the Trust, was a beneficiary of the Trust and the sole shareholder of Config Systems. The Trust sought the exemption based upon Config Systems’s use of part of the property as a school. The Trust appealed the City’s denial of its request to the BTLA. During the BTLA hearing on the Trust’s appeal, the City moved to dismiss the appeal. The BTLA granted the City’s motion, reasoning that the property owner, the Trust, was not a school, and that Config Systems, the entity operating the school which the Trust claims qualified the property for an exemption, did not own the property. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Appeal of Kadle Properties Revocable Realty Trust" on Justia Law

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Defendants, the City of Dover (City) and its city council, school board, school board superintendent search committee, ethics commission, and city council ethics sub-committee, appealed a Superior Court order requiring them to disclose to plaintiff Jeffrey Clay, the written rubric forms completed by members of the superintendent search committee when evaluating applicants for the superintendent position. On appeal, defendants argued that the trial court erred when it determined that the completed rubrics were not exempt from disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law as “[r]ecords pertaining to internal personnel practices.” After review, the Supreme Court reversed: the completed rubric forms pertained to “internal personnel practices” and were exempt from disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law. View "Clay v. City of Dover" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Beverly Cluff-Landry appealed a Superior Court order dismissing her case against defendant Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester d/b/a St. Christopher School (the school). Two new students enrolled in the Pre-K program at the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year, each of whom exhibited defiant behaviors, including “daily kicking, hitting, slapping, punching, spitting, biting, screaming, throwing things, and verbal abuse. Plaintiff reported to the principal “her concerns that the school was not adequately set up to handle [one of the students] due to his unsafe behaviors and the school’s inability to keep the other students safe, and that the behavior was in violation of the student-parent handbook.” In response to the plaintiff’s concerns, the principal “simply laughed.” The plaintiff continued to complain to the principal about the student, but the principal took no action. After the parents of a student complained that the defiant student was bullying their daughter, the principal expelled the defiant student. Thereafter, the principal’s alleged retaliation toward the plaintiff “escalated.” The principal ultimately placed the plaintiff on a “Teacher Improvement Plan.” She was given notice of the school’s intent to not renew her contract for the following school year in April; plaintiff’s last day of work was June 15, 2012. Plaintiff filed suit against the school alleging: (1) violations under the New Hampshire Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, by failing to renew her contract after she reported violations of school and public policies; (2) wrongful discharge, for failing to renew her contract; and (3) slander, based upon the principal’s comments to A&T. The school moved to dismiss, arguing that: (1) plaintiff’s factual allegations were insufficient to support a violation of the Act; (2) the wrongful discharge claim was barred by the statute of limitations, and also failed because the plaintiff’s employment was governed by a one-year contract; and (3) the alleged defamatory statements were not actionable because plaintiff consented to their publication. Following a hearing, the trial court granted the school’s motion. Finding no reversible error in the Superior Court’s judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Cluff-Landry v. Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester" on Justia Law

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The Dunbarton School District (appealed a Board of Education decision which determined that Dunbarton was liable to the Goffstown School District for its proportional share of Goffstown’s obligation on a 20-year construction bond approved in 2001 for renovations to the Goffstown High School. The hearing officer reasoned that, “[b]y initiating the withdrawal study, Dunbarton would have put Goffstown on notice prior to the bond as to the potential additional financial risk on the bond without Dunbarton remaining part of the [Authorized Regional Enrollment Area] AREA.” Although the 2004 AREA plan expired June 30, 2014, “Dunbarton was clearly on notice back in 2001 that there was a twenty (20) year bond, and had the opportunity to initiate a withdrawal study at that point in time so that Goffstown would be on notice of the possible financial ramifications of Dunbarton withdrawing from the AREA.” Accordingly, the hearing officer recommended that the Board find that Dunbarton remained financially obligated with respect to the high school construction bond. The Board voted to accept the hearing officer’s report and adopted his recommendation. On appeal, Dunbarton argued that RSA chapter 195-A “envisions two possible endings to an area relationship: (1) withdrawal by one party; and (2) expiration of the area agreement. [. . .] only where an area relationship terminates . . . before the end of its term through ‘withdrawal’ that the statute imposes liability for payments on outstanding bond issues” pursuant to statute. Consequently, “[t]he Board unlawfully and unreasonably categorized Dunbarton as a ‘withdrawing’ sending district because Dunbarton never withdrew; instead, the 2004 Contract expired by its terms and with it, any further obligation for Dunbarton to pay Goffstown.” The Supreme Court agreed with Dunbarton's interpretation of RSA 195-A:14, reversed the Board's decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "Appeal of Dunbarton School District" on Justia Law

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Farmington School District appealed a Board of Education (state board) decision reversing the decision of the Farmington School Board (local board) not to renew the employment contract of Demetria McKaig, a guidance counselor at Farmington High School. In November 2012, a student (Student A) and her boyfriend told McKaig and another guidance counselor that Student A was pregnant and that she wanted to terminate her pregnancy. Student A was fifteen years old at the time. McKaig suggested that Student A tell her mother about the pregnancy, but Student A refused. The principal expressed his view that the school should inform Student A’s mother about the pregnancy. McKaig disagreed, asserting that Student A had a right to keep the pregnancy confidential. McKaig spoke with Attorney Barbara Keshen of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union about Student A’s situation. Keshen’s opinion was that the judicial bypass law protected the confidentiality of Student A’s pregnancy and the fact that she was contemplating an abortion. McKaig relayed this opinion to Student A, and Student A made an appointment with a health center and another attorney to assist her with the judicial bypass proceedings. Meanwhile, the principal instructed the school nurse to meet with Student A to tell her that the school would inform her mother about her pregnancy. McKaig told the principal about her conversation with Keshen and urged him to contact Keshen to discuss Student A’s rights. The principal did not contact Keshen; however, Keshen contacted him. He told Keshen that the parental notification and judicial bypass laws did not prevent him from telling Student A’s mother about the pregnancy. Keshen instituted a petition for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the principal to prevent him from contacting Student A’s mother. McKaig was named as the petitioner “ON BEHALF OF [Student A]”; she was not named in her individual capacity. The TRO was ultimately granted. Months later, McKaig received a notice of nonrenewal from the superintendent; in the written statement of the reasons for non-renewal, the superintendent listed three reasons: insubordination, breach of student confidentiality, and neglect of duties. After the hearing, the local board upheld McKaig’s nonrenewal on those grounds. McKaig appealed to the state board, which found, pursuant that the local board’s decision was “clearly erroneous.” The state board reversed the local board’s decision to uphold McKaig’s nonrenewal, but it did not order McKaig’s reinstatement or any other remedy. McKaig cross-appealed the state board’s decision and argued that she was entitled to reinstatement with back pay and benefits. The Supreme Court affirmed the state board’s reversal of the local board’s decision, and ordered that McKaig be reinstated to her former job. The case was remanded to the state board for further proceedings to determine whether she was entitled to additional remedies. View "Appeal of Farmington School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Stephen Dichiara, Jr. appealed a superior court order that granted summary judgment to defendants Sanborn Regional School District and Robert Ficker on municipal immunity grounds. Plaintiff tried out for the high school basketball team; Ficker was the team's coach. At the tryout, plaintiff played in a 'loose ball' drill when he collided with another player and suffered substantial injury to his arm. Plaintiff sued for negligence and respondeat superior liability of the school district. On appeal, plaintiff argued the trial court misinterpreted the applicable statute when it held that a municipality is only liable for negligence arising out of the ownership, occupation, maintenance or operation of a motor vehicle or premises. Essentially, the plaintiff maintained that, under RSA 507-B:2, a governmental unit is liable for bodily injuries “caused by its fault or by fault attributable to it,” regardless of any connection to a motor vehicle or premises. While most personal injury actions are unlikely to involve a nexus with a premises or vehicle, there are circumstances under which a plaintiff could recover for a personal injury under RSA 507-B:2. This case did not fall within that exception. Therefore the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's grant of summary judgment.View "Dichiara, Jr. v. Sanborn Regional High School" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Daniel and Lisa B. appealed the decision of the New Hampshire State Board of Education (Board) that upheld a thirty-four day suspension imposed on their daughter Keelin B. Keelin opened an email account under another studentâs name, and then sent sexually suggestive, lewd and threatening email messages to the principal of her school and one teacher. When the deception was discovered, the Board âsentencedâ Keelin to a thirty-four day suspension. Keelinâs parents appealed to the School Board, but the Board upheld the suspension. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that Keelinâs âsentenceâ exceeded the Boardâs maximum allowable suspension under these kinds of circumstances. The Court reduced Keelinâs suspension to twenty days, but affirmed the Boardâs decision in all other respects.