Just another day at the high school….

Consider this situation: you are a school administrator in a large high school when something bizarre happens.  A boy plummets over a rail from the second floor. Fortunately (for the boy) his fall was broken by a teacher, and the boy was not seriously injured.  The subsequent litigation does not tell us if the teacher was injured, if she/he sought assault leave, or if this was just chalked up to “other duties as assigned.” 

Why did the boy go over the rail?  The court described it as “an apparent suicide attempt.”  The girl he was interested in was watching. 

Oh my. Now we have two students in distress.  A boy who has (maybe) taken desperate steps to win a girl’s heart. A girl who is getting the kind of attention she does not want.  At a time when educators are being encouraged to be more attentive to student mental health issues, this scenario provides a textbook case: what would you do?

The case ended up in litigation, advancing to the 5th Circuit. The court noted its reluctance to second guess how school officials handled this messy adolescent drama: 

…second-guessing would be especially inappropriate here as the school faced the difficult task of adopting measures that would both prevent future harassment of [the girl] and address the serious mental health issues that [the boy] was facing.  

It was the girl who filed the Title IX lawsuit, blaming the district for the fact that she felt “deeply uncomfortable and unsafe at school” because of the “harassment” she suffered at the hands of the boy.  The boy, “upset about [the girl] rejecting his romantic advances, engaged in repeated conduct” culminating in his lover’s leap. 

The 5th Circuit tossed this case out. The court noted that no one who could address this problem knew about it until the boy came crashing down from the second floor.  After that happened, the school took corrective action.  The school provided a safety plan for the girl, including a security guard escort.  It modified the boy’s schedule to minimize encounters of the two students.  It created a specific plan for choir, in which both students participated. The Court:

These proactive measures show that the district was attentive to, rather than indifferent to, [the girl’s] situation once it learned about the problem.

The case is E.M. v. Austin ISD, decided by the 5th Circuit in an unpublished opinion on May 29, 2019.  We found it at 770 Fed. Appx. 712.


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!