Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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The case involves the Edmond Public Schools (the Petitioner) and the State of Oklahoma, the State Board of Education, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (the Respondents). The Petitioner filed an application for the Supreme Court to prevent the enforcement of rules by the Respondents. These rules were to be used in enforcement proceedings against the school district before the State Board. The Petitioner argued that the State Board lacked the authority to supervise, examine, and control a local school board's discretion in supplying books for a school library that meet local community standards.The State Board of Education had publicized proposed rules for school library media programs, which included prohibitions on pornographic and sexualized content for books and other media. The Board adopted these rules, citing the Oklahoma Constitution and state statutes as their authority. However, the Oklahoma Attorney General issued an opinion stating that the proposed rules were not based on a specific grant of legislative authority, which was necessary for the Board to create these rules. The Legislature passed a resolution that did not expressly approve or disapprove the State Board's new rules. The Governor later issued a Declaration stating that the proposed rules for the State Department of Education were not subject to the joint resolution and approved these proposed rules as permanent rules for the State Department of Education.The Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma assumed original jurisdiction, in part, over the controversy. The court held that state statutes give a local school board power and a type of statutory discretion to supply books for a school library that meet local community standards. The court also held that no statute gives the State Board of Education, State Department of Education, and Superintendent of Public Instruction the authority to supervise, examine, and control a local school board's exercise of this discretion when the local school board applies local community standards for books it supplies for a local school library. The court issued a writ of prohibition to prevent additional enforcement proceedings against the school district based on the respondents' objection to the presence of certain books in the local school library. The court denied the petitioner's request for declaratory and injunctive relief. View "INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 12 v. STATE" on Justia Law

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Several school districts in Oklahoma launched a legal action claiming they had received insufficient State Aid payments for several years due to incorrect calculation by the Oklahoma State Department of Education. They sought to compel the Oklahoma State Board of Education to recover excessive State Aid payments made to other school districts and redirect them to the underfunded districts. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the intervening school districts, stating that the State Board of Education had no duty to seek repayment of excessive State Aid payments until an audit approved by the State Auditor and Inspector was performed.The case was brought before the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma, which agreed with the lower court. However, the court raised the issue of the school districts' standing to compel legislative appropriations and remanded the case for adjudication of standing. Upon remand, the district court granted summary judgment to the appellees, concluding that the school districts failed to demonstrate that they initiated their action before the expiry of any State Aid appropriations from which they sought additional funds. The case was dismissed based on the school districts' lack of standing.On appeal, the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma affirmed the lower court's decision, holding that the school districts lacked a legally cognizable aggrieved interest and therefore didn't have standing. The court stated that the school districts sought funds that were previously appropriated and had now lapsed. Hence, the districts had no cause of action to obtain legislatively appropriated funds because those funds had expired by application of the Oklahoma Constitution. View "INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT #52 OF OKLAHOMA COUNTY v. WALTERS" on Justia Law

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During the summer of 2021, Appellants Edmond Public School Board Members and Edmond Public School District Superintendent, Angela Grunewald, (collectively "District") anticipated a complete return to in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. Prior to the start of the school year, the Oklahoma City County Health Department ("OCCHD") expressed to District that quarantines should be recommended rather than required. In response, District prepared a standard letter that alerted parents when their child was exposed to a positive COVID-19 case, which left the responsibility "for carrying out a quarantine or not" up to the parents. School began on Thursday, August 12, 2021. By the fourth day of school, District reported 140 positive cases of COVID-19 which rose to 170 positive cases on the fifth day of the school year. The District thereafter implemented a policy consistent with the OCCHD’s recommendation and informed parents of the policy by email. As a result of the Policy, several unvaccinated students were required to quarantine due to being identified as a close contact. The Appellees, parents of children enrolled in Edmond Public Schools affected by the Policy ("Parents"), individually and on behalf of their children, filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief and an Application for Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO") alleging the policy violated state statutory and federal constitutional rights. District objected, and the TRO was denied. The trial court denied relief on all three counts pleaded in the Petition, but granted a Temporary Injunction based on Parents' Equal Protection Clause argument and enjoined District from implementing or enforcing the Policy. The District appealed. The trial court determined Parents were likely to succeed on the merits of their Equal Protection Clause claim against District but were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the Policy violated 70 O.S.Supp.2021, § 1210.189(A)(1). The Oklahoma Supreme Court found the trial court improperly interpreted § 1210.189(A)(1) and incorrectly concluded Parents were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the Policy violated § 1210.189(A)(1). Because the Supreme Court determined the policy violated 70 O.S.Supp.2021, § 1210.189(A)(1), it did not address the Equal Protection Clause argument. The trial court’s order was vacated and a declaratory judgment was granted in favor of the Parents. View "Shellem v. Gruneweld" on Justia Law

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Petitioners, a school district and the school district's superintendent, filed suit o stop the Oklahoma State School Board from taking actions against the school district in the meetings of the Board. The Board continued with its meetings and petitioners filed requests for a restraining order, preliminary injunction, and declaratory judgment to prevent further State Board actions until both the school district and its superintendent obtained administrative individual proceedings. The district court denied the petitioners' requests and they appealed. The State Board continued with its meetings, placed the school district on probation and required an interim superintendent as a condition of probation. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held the Superintendent failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that a due process violation occurred, or a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that his administrative remedy was inadequate, and failed to show he was entitled to a preliminary injunction. The Supreme Court held the School District failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits on a claim the State Board lacked authority to place the school district on probation with a condition requiring an interim superintendent, and failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of a claim the school district was entitled to an administrative individual proceeding prior to the school district being placed on probation, and school district failed to show it was entitled to a preliminary injunction. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's order. View "Western Heights Independent Sch. Dist. v. Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff School districts located in Midwest City/Del City, Enid, Ponca City, and Oklahoma City filed an action alleging they received insufficient State Aid payments for the years 1992-2014. The named defendants were: the Superintendent of Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE); the Oklahoma Tax Commission; and (3) the Oklahoma State Treasurer. Plaintiffs sought writs of mandamus to compel defendants to demand and recoup excessive State Aid payments made to other school districts, and then pay the correct apportionments to plaintiffs. Plaintiffs sought summary judgment, and intervenors, school districts in Tulsa County, sought summary judgment against plaintiffs. The district court granted intervenors' motion for summary judgment and concluded the defendants did not have a duty to seek repayment of excessive State Aid payments made to other schools until an audit was performed by auditors approved by the State Auditor and Inspector. Plaintiffs appealed and after review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the audit used by the State Board of Education when demanding repayment must be performed by auditors approved by the State Auditor and Inspector. A school district possesses a legal right to a proper apportionment of State Aid regardless of excessive payments made to other districts. A school district lacked a cognizable legal interest and standing in a claim to compel the State Board of Education to fund a lapsed appropriation. Plaintiffs' filings raised the issue of their standing to judicially compel legislative appropriations; standing would have to be adjudicated on remand. View "Independent School District # 52 v. Hofmeister" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a child, by and through his parents, brought a Governmental Tort Claims Act action alleging he was injured through the negligence of a school bus driver. The child was taken to a hospital emergency room, given several diagnostic tests, and treated with 4 staples for one laceration and Dermabond for another. When he filed his District Court action more than one year later he alleged he had medical-related expenses in the amount of $6,209.30, and potential unknown medical expenses as a result of being hit by the bus. Further, he alleged pain and suffering and sought a sum in excess of $10,000. The three basic questions raised on application for certiorari review by the Oklahoma Supreme Court were: (1) whether an Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims notice sent by certified mail to a superintendent of a public school statutorily sufficient; (2) whether an insurance adjuster's request for more information tolled the GTCA time limits if the request also stated an intent for tolling to not occur; and (3) whether a unilateral request by plaintiff for settlement negotiations tolled the GTCA time limits. The Supreme Court held plaintiff's Governmental Tort Claims Act (GTCA) notice of claim sent to the correct school superintendent by certified mail satisfied the requirement in 51 O.S. 156(D) for filing the GTCA notice with the office of the clerk of the school's board of education, although the superintendent did not transmit the notice to the proper clerk for filing. Further, the Court held the insurance adjuster's request for additional information did not toll the 90-day time limit for approval, denial, or deemed denial of the GTCA claim when the request expressly stated it would not extend or waive the GTCA time limits. Finally, the Court held a plaintiff's letter unilaterally seeking settlement negotiations was not an agreement pursuant to 51 O.S. 157 to toll the GTCA time limits. View "I. T. K. v. Mounds Public Schools" on Justia Law

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Within the 2006 through 2010 tax years, the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the Oklahoma State Board of Equalization issued certified assessments of certain public property physically located within the boundaries of the Stroud school district. Ad valorem taxes associated with these properties were distributed by the Lincoln County Treasurer to the Cushing and Wellston districts, instead of to Stroud. The error was discovered and subsequently corrected by the Lincoln County Board of Tax Roll Corrections during the 2010-2011 fiscal year. There was no disagreement among the three school districts that they were not responsible for the errors made in the distribution of the ad valorem taxes. To recover the funds that should have been Stroud's, Stroud sued Cushing and Wellston school districts. Stroud filed its petition on April 22, 2013. The defendant school districts filed a motion for summary judgment in December of 2014. In the same month, the plaintiff responded with its own motion for summary judgment. Stroud received the taxes from the property identified as within its district; Cushing received the taxes from the property identified as within its district; and Wellston received the taxes from the property identified as within its district. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found Stroud received the same amount for its general funds that it would have received had the ad valorem taxes been properly allocated. Nevertheless, it demanded additional funds from Cushing and Wellston that it would have received if the real property had been correctly identified. The Court determined if that amount was paid to Stroud, then Cushing and Wellston would have deficits in those districts that they would not have if the real property had been correctly identified. Stroud did not believe the other two school districts are entitled to a setoff if they paid Stroud the misallocated ad valorem taxes. The Court found all three school districts were victims of this error, but no district failed to receive the funds needed for their respective districts. The Court reversed judgments against the Cushing and Wellston districts and that in favor of Stroud: "county and state officials will make mistakes in the taxing of property and the distribution of taxes." View "Independent Sch. Dist. No. 54 v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 67" on Justia Law

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On December 20, 2017, Respondents Michael Thompson, Ray Potts, and Mary Lynn Peacher (collectively, Proponents) filed Initiative Petition No. 416, State Question No. 795 (IP 416) with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. IP 416 would create a new Article XIII-C in the Oklahoma Constitution. IP 416 contains 8 sections, which Proponents asserted will levy a new 5% gross production tax on oil and gas production from certain wells, and provide for the deposit of the proceeds primarily in a new fund entitled the "Oklahoma Quality Instruction Fund" (the Fund). Monies from the Fund would be distributed: (1) 90% to Oklahoma common school districts to increase compensation and benefits for certified personnel, and the hiring, recruitment and retention thereof; and (2) 10% to the State Department of Education to promote school readiness, and to support compensation for instructors and other instructional expenses in "high-quality early learning centers" for at-risk children prior to entry into the common education system. The opponent petitioners alleged the gist of the petition was insufficient and misleading. Upon review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the gist of the petition was legally sufficient. View "McDonald v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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On December 20, 2017, Respondents Michael Thompson, Ray Potts, and Mary Lynn Peacher (collectively, Proponents) filed Initiative Petition No. 416, State Question No. 795 (IP 416) with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. IP 416 would create a new Article XIII-C in the Oklahoma Constitution. IP 416 contains 8 sections, which Proponents asserted will levy a new 5% gross production tax on oil and gas production from certain wells, and provide for the deposit of the proceeds primarily in a new fund entitled the "Oklahoma Quality Instruction Fund" (the Fund). Monies from the Fund would be distributed: (1) 90% to Oklahoma common school districts to increase compensation and benefits for certified personnel, and the hiring, recruitment and retention thereof; and (2) 10% to the State Department of Education to promote school readiness, and to support compensation for instructors and other instructional expenses in "high-quality early learning centers" for at-risk children prior to entry into the common education system. The opponent petitioners alleged the gist of the petition was insufficient and misleading. Upon review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held the gist of the petition was legally sufficient. View "McDonald v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Several Oklahoma taxpayers filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a permanent injunction against Defendants, Joy Hofmeister, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Oklahoma State Department of Education; and the Oklahoma State Board of Education, (the "State") to enjoin the payment of tuition to private sectarian schools alleging the "Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act" (or "Scholarship Program") violated several articles of the Oklahoma Constitution. Both parties filed for summary judgment. The trial court granted in part and denied in part the parties' motions, finding the Act was constitutional on all challenged grounds except for one. The trial court entered a narrow Order ruling the Act violated the Oklahoma Constitution, Article II, Section 5, only to the extent it authorized public funds to pay the cost for students to attend private sectarian schools. This provision of the Constitution has been referred to as the "no aid" clause, prohibiting public money from being used for the benefit or support of religion. An injunction was issued to prevent payment to private religious schools, with no impact on the payment to private non-sectarian schools. The State appealed, arguing: (1) the payment to a sectarian school was permitted because it was for a valid public purpose and in exchange for consideration; and (2) the district court's construction of the Act created a religiosity distinction violating the U.S. Constitution's freedom of religion clause. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the district court's decision in part and found the Act did not violate the "no aid" clause. The Court did not reach defendants' second issue, and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Oliver v. Hofmeister" on Justia Law