Toolbox Tuesday: Educators facing personal liability for use of restraint.

In the Toolbox training we emphasize that physical restraint should always be available as an option for schools to deal with unexpected emergencies in which serious physical injury or property destruction is threatened.  But if physical restraint of a particular child is used repeatedly, it’s time for the school to come up with a better plan. Failure to do so can lead to legal consequences.

In a California case, the court held that individual educators were potentially liable for an unconstitutional seizure of the student due to 112 instances of physical restraint over a three year period.  Restraint was authorized by state law and consented to by the parents. But the school failed to follow some of its guidelines and the court was bothered by the sheer number.  The court refused to grant qualified immunity to the educators. Key Quote:

Here, Plaintiff has alleged a minimum of 112 instances of restraint  and containment, and 2,719 minutes of isolation over the course of three years.  At the most basic level, then, Plaintiff’s allegations are not necessarily that every individual instance of restraint or containment was unconstitutional but that the totality of the number of such uses of therapeutic containment coupled with Defendants’ failure to inform the parents of what they were doing, as well as their failure to prepare behavioral emergency reports, failure to hold IEP meetings, and/or failure to conduct functional analysis assessment reports has resulted in a violation of [the student’s] right to be free from unwarranted or unreasonable seizure at school.  That right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violations.

Notice: it was not the use of restraint alone, but the failure to keep the parents informed or to take proactive measures to come up with a better plan that caused the problem.  The educators have appealed this ruling to the 9th Circuit where the case is pending.

We talk about things like this in the Toolbox Training provided by our law firm. If interested, let me hear from you.

The case of A.T. v. Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District, was decided by the federal district court for the Eastern District of California on June 19, 2018.  We found it at 72 IDELR 122 and 316 F.Supp.3d 1204.