Principal is sued for “participating” in a restraint.

Have you been trained on the proper use of physical restraint with a student?  Have you had to put that training to use?  If so, you will find the case of Bradyn S. v. Waxahachie ISD interesting. 

The short version of the story is that school officials evacuated an elementary school classroom due to the violent behavior of an 8-year old.  The cops were called in, and the student was eventually restrained.  The suit alleges that the restraint was excessive.  If the case ends up in a trial the plaintiff will have the burden of proving that to be the case.

And the principal?  According to the suit, she “participated in the restraint of the child” and failed to inform the officer that the student had autism and a speech impairment.  The parents, on behalf of their young son, sued the district, the officers and the principal.  Today we will just focus on the suit against the principal. 

The court dismissed it, concluding that the principal was entitled to “qualified immunity.”  School officials are immune from personal liability as long as they do not violate legal standards that are “clearly established.”  In this case, the suit accused the principal of using excessive force in violation of the 4th Amendment.  But there were multiple problems with that theory.

First, the suit failed to “allege sufficient facts to support that [the principal] used any force at all.”  In order for force to be “excessive” there has to be force. The lawsuit only alleged that the principal “participated” in the restraint. That was too vague, according to the court.  None of the allegations indicated that the principal “personally used any amount of force” against the student. 

Moreover, the court noted that even if force was used, it was not clear that it was unreasonable, given the circumstances:

…the court cannot assess whether any alleged force used by [the principal] was clearly excessive to the need considering [the student’s] behavior at the school leading up to the events at issue, namely, his continued attacks on students and teachers;

From there the court went on to observe the special factors that have to be considered when applying the 4th Amendment in the school setting:

The 5th Circuit has “recognized that preservation of order in the schools allows for closer supervision and control of school children than would otherwise be permitted under the 4th Amendment.”  In the public school context, as is the case here, the 5th Circuit has “gone to great lengths to emphasize the special circumstances facing school administrators in maintaining discipline in the classroom and on school grounds.”

The court gave the plaintiff an opportunity to amend the pleadings to fix the problems that the court pointed out. But as of now, the case against the principal is dismissed, due to qualified immunity. 

It’s Bradyn S. v. Waxahachie ISD, decided by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on September 10, 2019.  We found it at 75 IDELR 37.  I’m pleased to let you know that Meredith Walker and Nona Matthews from our firm’s Irving office represented the district on this one. 


Tomorrow: What if it was a kindergarten student?