Toolbox Tuesday: Sorting out “he said/she said.”

On Tuesdays around here we focus on legal issues surrounding the discipline of students with disabilities.  Our firm’s Toolbox is an all day training program designed to empower administrators to use the ten “tools” that are available to simultaneously provide a safe and orderly campus while serving all students in the LRE.  One of the common dilemmas that administrators encounter in student discipline cases involves sorting out conflicting stories.  Two students engage in a fight, but each one blames the other for starting it.  A student is found to be in possession of something that doesn’t belong at school, but claims that someone else must have put it there.  A student claims a sexual assault, but the other student says it was a consensual encounter.  How do you sort that out?  Certainly this comes up with all of your students, not just those in the special education program. 

The Dawg offers no full proof method for discerning who is telling the truth, and who is shading it. But I came across some language in a recent case that at least points the way to relevant factors.  The parent had  accused the principal of making a child abuse report as an act of retaliation. The witnesses, including the parent and multiple school employees, gave sworn testimony before a special education hearing officer.  The federal court quoted this portion of the hearing officer’s decision:

I found all District witnesses to be credible, based upon the substantial consistency of their testimony with the documentary and testimonial record, their demeanor under oath, and their ways of responding to various questions.

Notice the three factors. First, their testimony was consistent with all of the other evidence.  Second, their demeanor was convincing.  Third, “their ways of responding” must have been straightforward and non-evasive. 

Those are all subjective factors.  It would be nice if you could use a dipstick approach and determine which witness was one quart low on the truth. But it will never be that way.  It’s difficult to hear people relate wildly different versions of the same facts and have to make a determination of who is more credible.  But that’s part of the job.  If you are investigating student misconduct, sexual misconduct, bullying, or other important issues with disciplinary potential, this is a part of the job.  This case is Aponte v. Pottstown School District.  We found it at 76 IDELR 38.


 Tomorrow: “I Pledge Allegiance…” But what if I refuse?