Qualified immunity for the principal….

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 disruptive behavior of an 8-year old.  The cops were called in, and the student was eventually restrained.  The suit alleges that the force used in 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.

The plaintiff sued the principal personally, but the court dismissed the case against her, concluding that she 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.” 

It is “clearly established” that school officials cannot use excessive force in disciplining students.  But the allegations against the principal fell short of that. She was accused of “holding” or “grasping” the student’s head as the police officer physically restrained the student.  The court noted that this did not indicate that the principal used force at all, much less “excessive” force. 

Then there was the matter of the handcuffs on an eight-year old. The court noted that “handcuffing alone does not amount to excessive force.” Moreover, it was the cop who cuffed the kid, not the principal, and the court observed that “Plaintiff has not demonstrated that [the principal] had authority to remove the handcuffs and her failure to advocate for their removal does not amount to excessive force.” 

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 4th Amendment’s reasonableness standard must afford school officials with a relatively wide range of acceptable action in dealing with disruptive students.

It’s Bradyn S. v. Waxahachie ISD, decided by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on September 23, 2020.  We found it at Special Ed Connection, 77 IDELR 130.  I’m pleased to let you know that Meredith Walker, Laura McLean and Nona Matthews from our firm’s Irving office represented the district on this one.