Let’s start with this. A student makes a bomb threat at a public school. The principal, not surprisingly, questions the kid about this. Mom sues the principal and assistant principal over questioning her child without notice to her. Does mom sound pretty unreasonable?
Well, then, let’s add some more facts. The student was nine-years old and has autism.
More facts: the questioning was not just by the two school administrators. There were two uniformed (and presumably armed) police officers questioning the boy as well. That’s four grown up men, two of them with guns, interrogating this little boy. Does that affect how you think of this? Can you understand mom’s concern?
Want some more facts? They arrested the kid, took him to the station and charged him with terroristic threat. Mom knew nothing of any of this until the boy had been at the police station for an hour.
Just a few more facts. The kid didn’t exactly call into the school and say “there’s a bomb about to go off in the library.” That would be a bomb threat. No, that’s not what happened here. What happened is that five days before all of this, a bomb threat was discovered written on a bathroom stall. The building was evacuated. Our nine-year old with autism had nothing to do with this, but it made it an impression on him. So five days later, he attempted to re-create the situation by writing “bone thrat” on the wall of the bathroom stall.
So he didn’t really make a “bomb threat.” He made, at most, a “bone thrat.”
Now what do you think?
The court held that the principal and assistant were entitled to qualified immunity. First of all, they did not make the decision to arrest the boy. The cops did that. As to the questioning, the court held that “No court has recognized the right of students to be free of questioning by school officials after reporting a bomb threat.”
Case dismissed. It’s well established that school officials can question a student about misconduct in the school without advance notice to the parents. But you can understand how this mother felt when she found out what happened at school. It’s always important to get an understanding of all of the facts of a situation before forming an opinion.
The case is Hicks v. Kilgore, decided by the District Court for the Middle District of Georgia on May 4, 2017. We found it at 69 IDELR 266.
DAWG BONE: MAYBE A CALL TO THE MOM WOULD HAVE SAVED A LOT OF TROUBLE.
Tomorrow: a phrase we ought to quit using on Friday nights.