School employees enjoy “qualified immunity” that protects them from legal liability when they are sued in federal court. The immunity is designed to protect school employees from liability when they make a mistake, or a bad judgment call. But there are limits. A bus monitor in Angleton ISD has been sued for allegedly abusing a student with autism, repeatedly, on the school bus. The pleadings in the case include this:
That on 37 bus trips over a 22-day period, [the bus monitor] viciously assaulted the minor Plaintiff, with no provocation whatsoever, a verified and documented 39 times, including pinching, slapping, and striking him with a metal belt buckle, his school supplies and even his own tennis shoes.
Yikes. The suit alleges that the videos on the bus will confirm all this. The bus monitor filed a Motion to Dismiss the case, asserting her qualified immunity. The court denied the Motion, holding that the law on this is “clearly established.” Key Quote:
A reasonable school district employee would have understood that a school bus monitor’s repeatedly striking a disabled, nonverbal student, without any provocation or justification, violated the child’s substantive due process rights and that such conduct was objectively unreasonable in light of the clearly established law at the time.
The case has a long way to go. The plaintiff has kept the case alive by providing detailed allegations of shocking behavior, but still bears the burden of proving the truth of these allegations.
But for today, the case stands as a reminder that qualified immunity is QUALIFIED. More important than that, the case is a reminder of the importance of paying attention to what happens on the school bus.
The case is Saldana v. Angleton ISD, decided by the district court for the Southern District of Texas on April 25, 2017. You can find it at 2017 WL 1498066 or on Special Ed Connection at 69 IDELR 274.
DAWG BONE: YOU HAVE IMMUNITY WHEN YOU MAKE A MISTAKE. NOT WHEN YOU ABUSE A CHILD. THAT SEEMS FAIR.
Tomorrow: What happens when a good student gets kicked out of the school play?