Toolbox Tuesday: Teacher accused of a “savage attack” on a student

The suit alleges that a 260 pound 4th grade teacher was so incensed by the presence of a 55-pound 1st grader, sitting in the hallway outside of his classroom, along with his aide, as per his BIP, that she confronted the student, escalated the situation and ultimately threw the little boy to the ground, choking him and yelling that he had “hit the wrong one.”  Yikes. 

In the Toolbox training provided by our law firm we talk a lot about the use of physical restraint. Suffice it to say, this is not the recommended method.  The allegations in this suit are pretty shocking, but the court will not permit the case to go to trial. The federal court tossed it out, without giving the parents the opportunity to prove the truth of their allegations. 

Why would a court do that?  To understand the answer to that question, you have to take into account the role of the federal courts, and their reluctance to step on the toes of state and local officials.  The court reasoned that this was a case alleging excessive corporal punishment by a teacher on duty.  Cases like that can be brought in state court.  In fact, teachers who use excessive force on a student face potential civil and criminal liability.  Therefore, they don’t belong in federal court.

The facts alleged in this case do not align with any method of corporal punishment that I’ve ever heard of.  But that’s what makes it a case of “excessive” use of force in the administration of student discipline. Teachers in Texas are protected from liability for many errors of judgment. But they are not protected from liability for the excessive use of force.  So if these parents bring their suit in state court, they might be able to recover damages for the injuries suffered by the little guy.  This case was brought in federal court, in an effort to turn a case of excessive force into a constitutional issue.  Nope. That doesn’t work.

The case is T.O. v. Fort Bend ISD, decided by the federal court for the Southern District of Texas on March 24, 2020.  It can be found at 76 IDELR 93. The court’s decision upholds the magistrate’s recommendation which is at 120 LRP 11190.


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Tomorrow: bridles are not just for horses. They are also for governors