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Jones v. Prince George's County Public Schools

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 1, 2016

RACQUEL JONES on behalf of her minor children a/k/a S.K.1, S.K.2, B.K. and D.K., as custodial parent and legal guardian
v.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, et al.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DEBORAH K. CHASANOW United States District Judge

         Presently pending and ready for resolution in this case are the following motions: a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Imagine Schools Nonprofit, Inc. (“Imagine Schools”)[1](ECF No. 33); a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants the Board of Education of Prince George’s County (the “School Board”) and Danielle Ellis (neé Goddard) (ECF No. 34); and three motions to seal (ECF Nos. 32; 48; 68). The relevant issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, the motions for summary judgment will be granted. The motions to seal will be denied without prejudice.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         Unless otherwise noted, the facts outlined here are undisputed and construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff Racquel Jones (“Plaintiff”), who brings this action on behalf of her minor children. Plaintiff, who has been without a permanent address for nearly two years, enrolled her four children at Imagine Lincoln Public Charter School (“Imagine Lincoln”) in Temple Hills, Maryland, a charter school operated by Defendant Imagine Schools. (ECF No. 33-2 ¶¶ 3-6). Imagine Lincoln had a uniform policy for its students, which, as of the 2012-2013 school year, requires that girls in sixth through eighth grade and all boys wear the following:

White short or long sleeve oxford [shirt] with [school] logo to be worn with Khaki pants, shorts or red/white/blue necktie and red cardigan, pullover or vest with school logo. Dress/casual shoes must also be worn at all times (no athletic shoes worn unless at physical education).

(ECF No. 33-11, at 3). The uniform policy mandates that girls in kindergarten through fifth grade wear:

White short or long sleeve oxford [shirt] with [school] logo to be worn with Khaki pants, shorts (no skirts or skorts), white short or long peter pan blouse worn only with red/white/blue plaid jumper, red/white/blue cross bow tie and navy tights. Dress/casual shoes must also be worn at all times (no athletic shoes unless at physical education).

(Id.). Pursuant to the uniform policy, “[a]ny student who is partially out of uniform will receive a uniform demerit. Any student that is missing a major component of the school uniform will not be admitted and/or allowed to remain in school.” (Id.). If a student receives a uniform demerit, he or she “will face consequences for that particular day the demerit was issued.” (Id.).

         Imagine Lincoln changed its uniform policy prior to the 2012-2013 school year, requiring students to wear some different components than were previously required. (ECF No. 33-1 ¶¶ 42-43). Imagine Lincoln informed parents about the uniform policy change on July 16, 2012. (ECF No. 33-12). Plaintiff received notice of the uniform change because she used her sister’s home address to receive school mailings. (See ECF No. 36, at 17-18). Prior to the start of the 2012-2013 school year, Plaintiff purchased the required khaki pants for her children. She also purchased white shirts, but she was unable to afford the required white shirts with the school logo. (Id. at 22). The children’s father purchased shoes for the children. (Id. at 24). Ms. Ellis, Imagine Lincoln’s principal, offered Plaintiff at least $100.00 in vouchers to help defray the cost of purchasing the children’s uniforms. (ECF Nos. 35, at 15-17; 36, at 30).[2] Plaintiff avers that Ms. Ellis told her that if she could not afford the uniforms she should consider placing her children in a different school. (ECF No. 60-1, at 9-10).

         During the 2012-2013 and the 2013-2014 school years, Plaintiff’s children received several uniform demerits for arriving at school without a complete uniform. (ECF Nos. 33-1 ¶¶ 68-79; 59, at 4). Plaintiff contends that, in punishment for the repeated uniform violations, the children were placed in a kindergarten or first grade classroom for one week each school year despite the fact that the children were all in higher grades at the time. (See ECF Nos. 37, at 13; 38, at 6; 59, at 4). While in the lower-grade classrooms, the children were unable to complete regular school work. (ECF No. 2 ¶ 31). Plaintiff asserts that her children were “ridiculed, bullied, and harassed by their classmates for not having on school uniforms and for being placed in lower grade classrooms.” (Id. ¶ 30). According to an affidavit of Janna Parker, a former teacher at Imagine Lincoln, Ms. Ellis “frequently called Plaintiff derogatory names and informed other Imagine Lincoln staff members that she wanted her children out of the school.” (ECF No. 67-1 ¶ 10).

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a complaint in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County on September 10, 2014. (ECF No. 2). Defendants Imagine Schools, the School Board, and Ms. Ellis (collectively, the “Defendants”) removed the action to this court. (ECF No. 1). The complaint asserts the following counts: a violation of Plaintiff and her children’s substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all defendants (Count I); a violation of the Equal Protection Clause brought under § 1983 against all defendants (Count II); and a state-law claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against Ms. Ellis (Count III). Defendants answered the complaint (ECF No. 9), and the parties participated in discovery.

         On February 11, 2015, the parties filed a joint motion for a protective order regarding confidentiality of discovery material in order to prevent the release of personally identifiable information of Plaintiff’s minor children and School Board employees. (ECF No. 12). The following day, the court issued a paperless order granting the parties’ motion for a protective order. (ECF No. 13).

         On October 5, Imagine Schools filed its pending motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 33), as did the School Board and Ms. Ellis (ECF No. 34). Plaintiff responded to both motions (ECF Nos. 50; 59), and Defendants replied (ECF Nos. 71; 74). The parties have also filed three pending motions to seal. (ECF Nos. 32; 48; 68).

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 56(a) when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the moving party is plainly entitled to judgment in its favor as a matter of law. In Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986), the Supreme Court of the United States explained that, in considering a motion for summary judgment, the “judge’s function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” A dispute about a material fact is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248. Thus, “the judge must ask himself ...


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