Career Tech Corner: Governor DeWine and the Ohio House Prioritize Career Technical Centers in Ohio Budget

Career Tech Corner: Governor DeWine and the Ohio House Prioritize Career Technical Centers in Ohio Budget

In the proposed budget awaiting Senate approval for the upcoming fiscal year, the Ohio House followed Governor Mike DeWine’s lead and made career technical centers a priority. H.B. 33 which passed the Ohio House on April 26, 2023, includes a $100 million appropriation to support career technical programs. H.B. 33 also includes a one-time appropriation of $200 million for construction projects that establish or expand career-technical education programs.

DeWine has said that he believes career technical centers are essential to preparing Ohioans for the jobs of the future. “The jobs of tomorrow are going to require more skills and training,” DeWine said. “Career technical centers are the best way to make sure that Ohioans have the skills they need to get good-paying jobs.” Both the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Education Association support the increased funding.

The budget proposal is now being considered by the Ohio Senate. It is expected to be debated and voted on in the coming weeks.





















































































































































































































































































































































































































































Lack of Fire Extinguisher in Science Classroom Could Be a Physical Defect Affecting Immunity

Lack of Fire Extinguisher in Science Classroom Could Be a Physical Defect Affecting Immunity

In a 4-3 decision rendered on December 28, 2022, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that the absence of a fire extinguisher in a science classroom “could be a physical defect such that an exception to immunity exists under R.C. 2744.02(B)(4).” 

 The case of Doe v. Greenville City Schools arose from an accident within a science class.  The plaintiffs alleged that the school district “negligently caused their injuries when they suffered severe burns in December 2019 after a bottle of isopropyl alcohol caught fire and exploded in a science class.” The complaint further alleged that the school district “failed to provide proper safety equipment, ‘especially, but not limited to, a fire extinguisher inside the classroom,’ failed to ensure that there were proper safety features and protocols in place, [and] failed to properly supervise and protect them…”

 The Supreme Court held that the allegations should survive a motion to dismiss.  Discussing the standard, the Supreme Court explained, “R.C. 2744.02(B)(4) requires that two separate elements be met—the injuries at issue must be caused both (1) by a political subdivision employee’s negligence and (2) by a physical defect within or on the grounds of buildings that are used in connection with the performance of a governmental function.

Noting that the term “physical defect” is not statutorily defined, the Supreme Court acknowledged a split among Ohio courts of appeals as to whether the lack of a safety feature could constitute a “physical defect.”  The Supreme Court agreed with the courts that have held that the lack of safety equipment or other safety features could amount to a physical defect. Thus, “the absence of a fire extinguisher or other safety equipment within a science classroom could be a physical defect such that an exception to immunity could exist under R.C. 2744.02(B)(4).”

 As a result of this decision, another exception to the immunity statute has been recognized by the Supreme Court.   Please contact one of our attorneys is you would like to further discuss this case and its implications.

A link to the decision can be found here.






















































































































































































































































































































































































Circuit Courts of Appeals Split on Transgender Bathroom Issue

On December 30, 2022, a federal circuit court of appeals broke from the decisions from other circuits and held that separating the use of male and female bathrooms on the basis of biological sex does not violate the United States Constitution or Title IX.  In Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County, Florida, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (covering Alabama, Florida, and Georgia) upheld what the court described as “the unremarkable — and nearly universal — practice of separating school bathrooms based on biological sex.”  The ruling upheld a school district’s decision to deny a request from a transgender male to access the boys’ restroom.

 The Adams decision directly conflicts with guidance from the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Education, as well as decisions from the Fourth Circuit (covering Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia) and the Seventh Circuit (covering Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin).  The decision also conflicts with a decision from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, which has jurisdiction over portions of Ohio.  The guidance and those decisions have concluded that transgender students may access the bathrooms of their choice.

Based on the split among the circuits, the Supreme Court of the United States may decide to consider the case and settle the issue definitively.  In the interim, clients are encouraged to contact the attorneys at Ennis Britton for consultation.

A copy of the decision can be found here






















































































































































































































































































































Supreme Court Clarifies that Plaintiff Has Burden of Proving Violations of the Ohio Open Meetings Act

Supreme Court Clarifies that Plaintiff Has Burden of Proving Violations of the Ohio Open Meetings Act

On December 1, 2022, the Supreme Court of Ohio released a decision clarifying the burden of proof remains with a plaintiff in actions to enforce the Ohio Open Meetings Act (OMA).  In State ex rel. Hicks v. Clermont Cty. Bd. of Commrs., Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-4237, the Court rejected a burden shifting analysis created a decade ago by the Twelfth District Court of Appeals in State ex rel. Hardin v. Clermont Cty. Bd. of Elections, 2012-Ohio-2569.  As a result, it will be more difficult for plaintiffs to prevail in suits claiming violations of the OMA.

 Under the rejected framework created by Hardin, a plaintiff must first show that a meeting of a majority of the members of a public body occurred and the public had been excluded.  Next, the public body would have a burden to show that the meeting fell under one of the exceptions to the OMA.  Finally, the burden would shift back to the plaintiff to come forward with evidence that the exception claimed by the public body is not applicable or valid.

In rejecting the Hardin court’s framework, the Hicks court recognized that “the plaintiff must prove a violation of the OMA.  There is no requirement for the public body to conversely prove that no violation occurred.”  The Supreme Court recognized a presumption of regularity, i.e., in the absence of evidence to the contrary, courts will presume public officers properly performed their duties and acted lawfully.  Under the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the OMA, it is sufficient that a public body show a proper motion to enter executive session under the requirements of R.C. 121.22(G)(1).  Further, the Supreme Court clarified that a board need not create a detailed record of its executive session discussions.  Instead, “the only thing that the public body is required to record in its executive-session minutes is the statutorily permitted reason for the executive session.”  As such, the OMA does not impose a duty to maintain a detailed record of executive session discussions.

Recognizing that its decision would make it more difficult to pursue alleged violations of the OMA, the Supreme Court explained that “the difficulty involved in proving a violation of the OMA is a policy choice for the General Assembly.  If the General Assembly had been concerned about access to evidence in these types of cases, it could have written R.C. 121.22 to place the burden of production on the public body.  It chose not to do so.”

Regarding the specificity of the motion to go into executive session, the Supreme Court also rejected the argument that a public body must discuss every topic it includes in its motion to enter into executive session.  Refusing to impose a rule not contained in the statute, the Supreme Court concluded that “a public body must be able to introduce a motion that includes all the topics it might reasonably discuss during an executive session.”  A limitation remains, however, that public body “may not discuss any additional topics that are not in included in its motion to enter executive session.”

The Hicks decision should prove helpful in defending claimed violations of the OMA because the burden now clearly rests on a plaintiff to prove that an improper executive session occurred. Please contact any of the Ennis Britton attorneys to discuss the requirements of the OMA.














































































































































































Feds Stress Compliance with Special Education Requirements for Preschool-aged Children

Feds Stress Compliance with Special Education Requirements for Preschool-aged Children

Perhaps revealing enforcement priorities, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Head Start (OHS) recently issued a joint letter reminding state educational agencies (SEAs), local educational agencies (LEAs), and Head Start programs of their requirements to serve preschool-aged children under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).

The letter asserts that “young children and their families have been disproportionately affected by service disruptions.” While acknowledging that the pandemic continues to present challenges to implementing appropriate programs and services to young children, “children with disabilities retain their rights under IDEA to receive appropriate special education and related services in accordance with their individualized education programs (IEP).” The letter stressed, “No IDEA requirements have been waived.”

The letter concludes that data shows:
• initial evaluations have been delayed and not provided in a timely fashion;
• special education and related services included in IEPs are not being provided timely or IEPs are not being fully implemented; and
• placement decisions are not being made in accordance with IDEA’s least restrictive environment requirements.

The letter goes on to urge collaboration between SEAs, LEAs, and Head Start programs and provides links to resources to help meet the requirements of IDEA.

As a result of the correspondence, one can conclude that challenges resulting from pandemic disruptions will not serve as a “get out of jail free” card. Both the US Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services have put LRAs and Head Start programs on notice of their expectations.

Feel free to reach out to any of your partners at Ennis Britton to discuss special education compliance issues for preschool-aged children.

A copy of the letter can be found here