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A right is clearly established if the contours of the right are sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right. By contrast, if the law is not established clearly when an official acts, he is entitled to qualified immunity because he could not reasonably be expected to anticipate subsequent legal developments. On the other hand, the clearly established standard does not require precise factual correspondence between relevant precedents and the conduct at issue. An official will not be liable for allegedly unlawful conduct so long as his actions are objectively reasonable under current federal law.
In order to better ascertain the attitudes and needs of students, defendant school board administered a survey to students. The survey, which was anonymous and voluntary, asked question pertaining to such issues as drug and alcohol use, violent and criminal behavior, and sexual activity. Plaintiff parents sued, claiming the survey invaded the students' privacy and plaintiffs were not provided with notice concerning the voluntary and anonymous nature of the survey. Plaintiff parents filed for preliminary injunctive relief. Defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiffs cannot maintain a § 1983 action against the defendants because the allegations lodged against them were not a reflection of the Board policy, but rather a violation of the Board policy.
Under the circumstances, could the plaintiffs maintain the present action against the defendants?
The court granted summary judgment in defendants' favor. A letter sent to all parents gave ample notice of the survey's nature. The law governing student surveys was not clearly established at the time of the alleged violation. The Department of Education had yet to promulgate regulations which might explain when a survey fell under the tentacles of the Protection of Pupils Rights Amendment (PPRA). Thus, the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. Defendants' actions were objectively reasonable under federal law. Plaintiffs could not establish that the survey was administered as part of an applicable program as defined by the General Education Provisions Act.