It all started when the third grader put his new shoes on a chair in music class to show them off to a friend. According to the student, soon to be known as “the Plaintiff”, the music teacher went ballistic. The lawsuit alleges that the teacher instructed the boy to “put his f****** feet down.” Later in the class the boy put his shoes on the chair again. The teacher yelled “I f****** told you to take your feet off the chair.” Did we mention that the shoes-on-the-chair kid was in third grade?
Bad enough, but that’s not the worst:
Defendant Valdez then “picked up the chair [Plaintiff] had his feet on and slammed it down on the floor. [He] then punched [Plaintiff] in his right shoulder three times with a closed fist.” Defendant Valdez kicked a second student in the shin, pulled a third student to the ground by the hair, and shouted at the class “that they were ‘stupid’ and to ‘shut up,’ as well as yelled profanity at the students.
Five days later the school fired Mr. Valdez, after he acknowledged that he had “lost it” in the classroom. His license to teach was suspended for two years and he plead guilty to three counts of battery. Then he got sued.
Mr. Valdez tried to get the case against him dismissed, arguing that his actions may have been wrong, but they were not “unconstitutional.” Moreover, the ex-teacher asserted that he was entitled to “qualified immunity” because the law about this sort of thing was not “clearly established.”
Nope. None of that worked. The court applied the “shocks the conscience” standard, meaning that Mr. Valdez would not be liable unless his alleged behavior “shocks the conscience.” The court held that it did. The allegations in the suit were that the boy had a dislocated shoulder, torn tendons, and emotional damage. Key Quote:
Accepting Plaintiff’s version of the events in his First Amended Complaint as true, as this Court must on a motion to dismiss, Defendant Valdez’s alleged use of force would be disproportionate to the need of maintaining order in a class of third grade children, where the only disruption involved a child who put his feet up on a chair….. A jury could interpret Defendant Valdez’s conduct in “losing it” as malice towards the students. Simply put, the Court finds that Plaintiff has succeeded in meeting his burden to allege a viable constitutional violation.”
The court also held that the ex-music teacher was not entitled to qualified immunity. The law was clearly established to the point that a teacher should have known that such improper use of force was unconstitutional. After reviewing the case law the court says that a reasonable teacher in Mr. Valdez’s situation ought to know that:
The application of intentional, excessive physical force against a student resulting in severe and continuing injuries, could rise to the level of a constitutional violation.
The case of G.V.R. v. The Espanola Public Schools was decided by the federal court for New Mexico on September 14, 2018. We found it at 2018 WL 4401724.
DAWG BONE: “LOSING IT” IS COSTLY.
Another student refuses to stand and recite the Pledge. Another suit.