The SRO, the taser and the lawsuit….

Back on July 16th the Dawg told you about the Texas case in which a School Resource Officer (SRO) was sued for the alleged use of excessive force with a student with a disability.  At that time the court dismissed the case against the school district, but kept alive the claim against the SRO.   Now the court has reconsidered the district’s potential liability, but stuck to its original ruling—the district is dismissed from the case.   However, this opinion provides a detailed analysis of an important legal issue: “exhaustion of administrative remedies.” 

As a general rule, parents who complain of a denial of FAPE must first pursue a special education hearing before going to court.  This “exhausts” the available “administrative remedies.” The plaintiff in this case did not do that.  She argued that exhaustion was not required because the case was brought under 504 and the ADA, and was really about physical and emotional injuries—not a denial of appropriate educational services.  The court noted that this is a “gray and factually dependent area of the law.” After reviewing a number of cases from around the country (good reading for the lawyers!!) the court provided this summary:

The pattern evident from these cases is that when a plaintiff brings Section 504 and ADA claims based exclusively on nondisciplinary violence against a student, exhaustion under IDEA is not required.  However, if the alleged physical harm is connected to a disciplinary measure because of in-school disruptive behavior that interferes with attending classes or participating in other educational services, courts are more likely to conclude that the gravamen of the complaints related to the denial of a FAPE. (Emphasis added).

In this fact situation, the SRO’s use of the taser was “connected to a disciplinary measure.”  The student was trying to leave the building while administrators and the SRO tried to stop him.  Thus the court held that the case was about FAPE, even though the parent did not use that term.  Therefore, exhaustion was required, and since it was not accomplished, the court dismissed the case.  On top of that, the court also held that summary judgment for the district was proper due to the lack of evidence of intentional discrimination.  Key Quote:

The 5th Circuit has not articulated a clear standard for intentional discrimination under Section 504 and Title II in the school context, but courts in this circuit have concluded that “the plaintiff must link the discrimination claims to some evidence of prejudice, ill-will, or spite,” or, at the least, show deliberate indifference.

The case against the SRO is still pending, but the case against the district has been dismissed, reconsidered and dismissed again. 

The case is Washington v. Katy ISD, decided by the federal court for the Southern District of Texas on September 4, 2019.  We found it at Special Ed Connection, 75 IDELR 45.


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!