I read the news today….oh boy….

There is a case percolating along in Illinois that I sorta hate to tell you about.  It’s painful to report on cases involving physical and verbal abuse of a seven-year old child in a public school.  But we can’t afford to close our eyes to the reality—bad things sometimes happen in our public schools. 

The parent ended up suing the district, the superintendent, the principal, assistant principal, the teacher and two teacher aides.  The court was ruling on a Motion to Dismiss. This means the court must assume the truth of the allegations in the suit to determine if the suit alleges a plausible claim.  With that standard, the court refused to dismiss claims against the teacher for an unconstitutional seizure of the student, and claims against the principal, superintendent and members of the school board for substantive due process violations. Based on the pleadings, the court held that no one was entitled to qualified immunity.  The following paragraph sums it up:

Taking together the alleged de facto isolation room policies and [the school district’s] failure to train its staff, Plaintiff sufficiently states a Monell claim.  Plaintiff alleges that [district] administrators with final policy-making authority created policies of overusing isolation rooms, frequently as a form of punishment. And [the district] failed to adequately train its staff, teachers and paraprofessionals in how to diffuse situations when students become disruptive or upset, or when and how to use physical contact with students. Pursuant to this alleged policy, Gages Lake made abundant use of isolation rooms 1,700 instances in the 2018-19 school year with a quarter of those punitive. And, in only a one-month period, these allegedly undertrained staff abused at least eight students in the isolation rooms, including N.M..  For purposes of a motion to dismiss, this suffices to show a “pattern of similar constitutional violations” and a “risk so obvious that it compels municipal action.”

The allegations of abuse are horrific and are supported by video footage, which revealed how untruthful the school was being about this.  The reference to a “Monell” claim means that the school district faces liability because it was its policies and customs that led to the injuries of the student.  One para involved in this is facing numerous criminal charges. The other committed suicide. The plaintiff still has a heavy burden of proof to meet, but has survived this effort by the school and the individual defendants to dismiss the case.

What to learn from this mess?  We learn why we have surveillance cameras in some classrooms. We learn that there are people employed by public school districts who shouldn’t be.  We learn that courts will trust video footage that contradicts what educators say.  We are reminded of how important it is to pay attention to what is happening with the most vulnerable students.  We learn to be attentive to the safety of all students.

It’s Medina v. Izquierdo, decided by the federal court for the Northern District of Illinois. The case is published in Special Educator at 80 IDELR 254.


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com

Tomorrow:  Toolbox Tuesday!!