U.S. Supreme Court Declines Education Appeals as New Term Opens

By Mark Walsh — October 05, 2015 4 min read
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The U.S. Supreme Court returned to the bench on Monday for the formal start of its new term, just a short time after issuing orders denying most appeals that had piled up over the summer. A few of those were in noteworthy education cases.

The court declined to hear a consolidated appeal from three families challenging New York state’s mandatory vaccination law.

One New York City mother challenged the denial of a religious exemption for her child, while two other New York city families that received such exemptions challenged a state regulation that allowed school officials to exclude their children from school during an outbreak of chickenpox. All three families challenged the state law and regulation on grounds that they violated their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and their 14th Amendment right to due process of law.

Both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, rejected the families’ arguments.
The appeals court said early this year that the argument that New York’s mandatory vaccination requirement violates the families’ due-process rights was foreclosed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1905 decision in Jacobson v. Massachusetts. That case held that it was within the common-law “police powers” of a state to require vaccinations for admission to schools to preserve public health.

The appeals court went on to say that Jacobson combined with dictum in a later Supreme Court decision meant that mandatory vaccination as a condition for admission to school does not violate the free-exercise clause.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court in Phillips v. City of New York (Case No. 14-1445), the families argued that “childhood vaccination mandates today are so radically different than what Jacobson upheld in 1905 that this court must step in to help these innocent children.”

The justices declined the appeal without comment.

Meanwhile, the court also declined to hear the appeal of an Ohio woman born without a left hand alleged that a school district discriminated her based on disability when it refused to hire her as a school bus driver.

Tammy Rosebrough was encouraged to apply by the Buckeye Valley school district because it needed drivers, and she obtained a required waiver from the state Department of Education. But training did not go smoothly, with some employees allegedly making comments that Rosebrough would have difficulty with certain buses, that she was “high maintenance,” or that parents would not be happy with a driver missing a hand.

Rosebrough did not obtain a required commercial driver’s license and never finished her training. She sued the district under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ultimately ruled that the school district did not discriminate against her under the ADA.

“The record contains no facts suggesting an effort by Buckeye Valley to obstruct Rosebrough from taking her CDL exam or becoming a bus driver,” the appeals court said in 2014.

The justices declined to hear her appeal in Rosebrough v. Buckeye Valley High School (Case No. 14-1291).

Meanwhile, the court refused to hear the appeal of a New York state man who sued to require that state child-protection laws requiring fingerprinting and background checks for prospective public school employees also be applied to private schools.

The man, identified in court papers as U.L., is an Orthodox Jew who contends that instances of child sexual abuse in private religious schools demand stronger measures from the government. Two lower federal courts rejected the man’s claims that New York state lawmakers refusal to extend the protective measures to private schools violated his and his daughter’s constitutional rights.

The justices declined without comment to hear the appeal in U.L. v. New York State Assembly (No. 14-1522).

And in yet another case from New York state, the justices declined to hear the appeal of a local school board member who was removed from the board by his fellow members for allegedly failing to complete six hours of training on financial oversight.

Edward Lilly sued the Lewiston-Porter Central School District after the board removed him for failing to complete the training within the first year of his term in 2007. New York state’s education commissioner overturned the action because Lilly had several days remaining to complete the training at the time he was removed. Lilly was reinstated to the board, but his federal lawsuit against the school district and the board for alleged violations of due process of law was rejected by lower federal courts.

The justices declined without comment to hear his appeal in Lilly v. Lewiston-Porter Central School District (No. 14-1529).

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