Education

Charter School Not a ‘State Actor,’ Court Rules

By Mark Walsh — January 06, 2010 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A federal appeals court has ruled that an Arizona charter school is not a “state actor” for purposes of federal civil rights law. The court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a former teacher at the school who alleged that the school deprived him of his liberty interest in finding other work.

Michael Caviness, a former physical education teacher and coach at the Horizon Community Learning Center in Phoenix, was placed on administrative leave in 2006 for questionable judgment over personal phone contacts with a female student, according to court papers. Caviness contended that the student had a crush on him and that he did nothing wrong. After his contract was not renewed, Caviness alleges that the charter school declined to clear his name and refused to provide references as he sought another teaching job.

He sued the school under the federal civil rights law known as Section 1983. That law, which stems from the Reconstruction-era Civil Rights Act of 1871, allows individuals to sue over any alleged deprivation of rights carried out under “color of law.” To succeed in such a case, the plaintiff must show that the challenged conduct was attributable to government action.

For both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, the key question was whether an Arizona charter school was a “state actor” under Section 1983. Both courts concluded it was not, and thus Caviness’s suit could not proceed.

“This case presents the special situation of a private nonprofit corporation running a charter school that is defined as a ‘public school’ by state law,” the three-judge appeals court panel said in its unanimous Jan. 4 decision in Caviness v. Horizon Community Learning Center.

The court said that even though charter schools are defined as public schools by the state of Arizona and are subject to extensive state rules and obligations, that does not transform private organizations that run them into government actors.

The appeals court cited a 1982 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, in Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, that a private school for troubled students in Massachusetts that received nearly all of its students by referral from public school districts and the state was nonetheless not a state actor for employment purposes under Section 1983.

“The Arizona legislature chose to provide alternative learning environments at public expense, but, as in Rendell-Baker, that legislative policy choice in no
way makes these services the exclusive province of the state,” the appeals court said.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Education More Than 120,000 U.S. Kids Had Caregivers Die During Pandemic
The toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.
3 min read
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 file photo, a funeral director arranges flowers on a casket before a service in Tampa, Fla. According to a study published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, by the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)