Are they burpees? Ceiling jumps? Squat thrusts? Up’n downs? Whatever you call them, are they legal?

The mother of an 11-year old girl in Dallas ISD alleged that her daughter suffered physical injuries after a P.E. coach required the girl to do 260 “ceiling jumps.”  Here’s how the court defined this term:

A ceiling jump involves squatting down with both hands and hips to the floor, then jumping up with one’s hands toward the ceiling.

When I was in junior high, the coach called these “squat thrusts.”  Some folks apparently call this form of exercise “burpees.”

Whatever you call it’s no fun, and doing it 260 times without a break, as a result of failing to “dress out” for P.E. could be classified by some as an “aversive technique” prohibited by SB 712, our new law.  But the case in Dallas arose in 2016, before that law was enacted.  The mother sued Dallas ISD, the coach, the principal and a school nurse, alleging that her daughter’s constitutional rights had been violated. 

The court dismissed the suit entirely.  In a nutshell, the message from the court is that a suit like this belongs in state court, not federal court.  Did the coach inflict an excessive punishment?  DISD investigators determined that he did.  But his actions did not violate any constitutional rights. Nor did he engage in intentional sex discrimination in violation of Title IX.  The court cited earlier 5th Circuit cases:

In light of these principles, the 5th Circuit had held that the constitutional right to bodily integrity is not implicated when “the conduct complained of is corporal punishment—even unreasonably excessive corporal punishment—intended as a disciplinary measure” so long as “the forum state affords adequate post-punishment civil or criminal remedies for the student to vindicate legal transgressions.”

In other words, if you can sue the coach in state court, and file criminal charges against him, then you have no federal case.  Texas does permit “adequate post-punishment civil or criminal remedies.” School officials are potentially liable—both civilly and criminally—for excessive corporal punishment. 

That took care of all constitutional claims.  The Title IX claim was sacked by the plaintiff’s acknowledgement that the coach treated boys and girls alike.   Sharp readers must be wondering: how can you say that boys and girls are treated the same, and then claim sex discrimination?  The plaintiff here argued that this form of punishment may have been dished out equally, but it caused injuries to girls more than boys.  That didn’t work.  The court held that this is a “disparate impact” claim. Title IX does not permit recovery for a claim like that. You have to prove intentional discrimination. 

The case of Poloceno v. Dallas ISD was decided by the federal court for the Northern District of Texas on June 21, 2019. We found it at 2019 WL 2568681.


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!