That student handbook: a lesson for principals.

Yesterday we told you about the outcome of the “clock boy” suit against Irving ISD and various others.  The court dismissed all claims.  Today, we focus on how the court analyzed the principal’s actions.

The principal gave the “clock boy” a three day suspension after he was arrested and charged with possession of a hoax bomb.  The civil suit was against the district and also the principal.  As a government official who is responsible for making discretionary judgment calls every day, the principal was entitled to “qualified immunity.”  To overcome that, the plaintiff had to produce evidence that would show that the principal was “plainly incompetent” or “violated clearly established law.”

The plaintiff failed to do that.  In an earlier ruling in the same case, the judge wrote eloquently about the difficulties principals face these days:

Woe unto the principal who fails to act on a potential threat that later becomes a reality!  To hold Principal Cummings, or any other administrator, to this standard places him between the dreaded Scylla and Charbydis.

I don’t know where Scylla and Charbydis are, but it certainly sounds like they are between the proverbial “rock” and “hard place.”

After that ruling, the plaintiff was given the opportunity to re-plead his case to try to convince the court that the principal should be held liable. In the amended complaint the plaintiff pointed out something that had not been mentioned before—that the principal failed to comply with a procedure set out in the student handbook.  That procedure read as follows:

LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES (All Grade Levels) Questioning of Students

The principal will verify and record the identity of the officer or other authority and ask for an explanation of the need to question or interview the student at school.

The principal ordinarily will make reasonable efforts to notify the parents unless the interviewer raises what the principal considers to be a valid objection.

According to the allegations in the suit, which the court was assuming to be accurate, the kid was grilled at length by several armed and uniformed officers without notice to his parents, despite his repeated requests to call them.  In other words, the plaintiff did allege that the principal violated, or at least ignored, the student handbook.  Is that a violation of “clearly established law”?

The court said no:

A deviation from an entity’s internal procedures, without more, does not show discriminatory intent or amount to a constitutional violation, as constitutional requirements may nevertheless have been met.

Thus the case against the principal, like the case against the district, was dismissed.  However, this one serves as another reminder of how important it is to follow district policy and procedure. In fact, that “procedure” in the student handbook is taken directly from Policy GRA (Local).

This case has gotten tons of attention on social media and elsewhere, so perhaps it will move on to the 5th Circuit. But as of now, all legal claims asserted by the Irving “clock boy” have been dismissed. The case is Mohamed v. Irving ISD, decided by the federal court for the Northern District of Texas on March 13, 2018.  We found it at 2018 WL 1305455.


 Tomorrow: Another claim of “retaliation” by a teacher.