And then he hugged the principal….

The decision of the 5th Circuit describes a cinematic moment involving the third grader, the police officer, and the principal.  It starts with a “meltdown” by the student: “He became agitated and began throwing objects, pushing over desks, and hitting his teachers, resulting in the evacuation of his classroom.” The teacher dialed 911 and the Waxahachie Police Department showed up.

When the cop entered the classroom, “[the student] began running towards him and threw a chair at him.”  The officer caught the chair, grabbed the boy by his arms, and placed him on his stomach while the principal held the student’s head to keep him from banging it on the floor.  The court gave the officer credit for his efforts to calm the student down, but they were not successful.  Backup was called for, and the backup warned the boy that he would be handcuffed if he failed to calm down. He didn’t.  Then this:

Once he was in handcuffs, the officers were able to walk [the student] to the front office where his mother came to pick him up.  [The student], his mother, [the principal], and the officers then debriefed what happened and the conversation ended with [the student] shaking hands with one of the officers and hugging [the principal]. 

Despite that peaceful moment, the parties ended up in litigation, the parent claiming that the district was too slow to develop a BIP, and was otherwise failing to meet its obligations under IDEA. It first went to a special education due process hearing officer who ruled in favor of the district. The federal district court affirmed that ruling and now the 5th Circuit has as well. 

The court’s 25-page decision is replete with citations to the testimony of the teachers and other direct service personnel.  The court summed up its decision with this:

In sum, this case is very fact specific given that the issues raised by [the student] on appeal mostly require our review of credibility determinations made by the hearing officer.

The basic dispute in this case was over the timing of the development of a BIP. In the spring semester of the student’s third grade year his behavior escalated, culminating in the handcuffing incident described above.  After that incident the district promptly offered to do an FBA and a BIP. But the parents argued that this was too late, that the district had enough information about behavioral problems in the fall of that school year and should have offered a BIP then.  But the hearing officer relied on the testimony of the teachers that the IEP was already appropriately and adequately addressing behaviors in the fall.  Key Quote:

In reviewing the record, we find that the district court sensibly followed the hearing officer’s reliance on the testimony from [the student’s] teachers, who interacted with him on a daily basis, to conclude that [the student’s] behavior was being adequately managed without an FBA and a BIP until February of 2017. 

The most important witness in a special education hearing is the classroom teacher. Here is yet another example of that: B.S. v. Waxahachie ISD, decided by the 5th Circuit in an unpublished decision issued on March 23, 2023. The opinion can be found at 2023 WL 2609320. I’m pleased to let you know that the district was represented by the lawyers in our firm, led by Nona Matthews and Meredith Walker.


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