Wednesday, November 30, 2011

D. Colo. Denies Summary Judgment in School Restraint Case

On Monday, Judge William Martinez of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado issued an opinion in A.B. ex rel. B.S. v. Adams-Arapahoe 28J School Dist., 2011 WL 5910191 (D. Colo., Nov. 28, 2011).  The case involves a 5-year-old kid, A.B., who has been diagnosed with a seizure disorder and developmental delays, and who was a kindergartener when the events at issue took place.  A.B. had, in the district court's words, "significant behavioral difficulties" in school, and the school district responded by developing a behavior modification plan:
The staff was first to send A.B. to sit in a regular chair for a time-out. If A.B. would not comply and stay seated, the staff was to utilize a modified “baskethold”, which involved the teacher sitting behind the chair and loosely holding A.B. down to help her try and stay still. If A.B. had not deescalated her behavior in five minutes, the teachers were to place A.B. in a wooden high-backed chair (the “Restraint Chair”) and strap A.B. to the chair. The staff was then to set a timer so that A.B. would be in the Restraint Chair for no longer than five minutes. The purpose of the Plan was to get A.B. to refocus on classroom activities.
This behavior modification plan was not made a part of A.B.'s IEP as signed by her mother.  The IEP spoke only of time-outs, not restraints.  And there was evidence that for a six-week period, A.B.'s classroom teacher placed her in the restraint chair all day, every day, except for the periods when she went to music or gym, and the last five minutes of the day before A.B.'s mother picked her up.  A.B. often yelled and cried while in the restraint chair.  Her teacher responded on a number of occasions by turning the restraint chair so that it faced a corner of the room and placing barriers around the chair so that A.B. could not see out, though classroom staff could see in.  After the P&A began investigating in December, the school discontinued use of the restraint chair.

A.B. and her mother sued both the school district and a number of the individuals involved in the restraint, on both state and federal law grounds.  Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims.  The district court granted that motion in part and denied it in part.  In particular, the court held that A.B. had presented sufficient evidence to warrant a trial on the questions whether A.B.'s classroom teacher violated clearly established Fourth Amendment law in restraining her and whether the school principal and the behavioral consultant who devised the restraint plan were deliberately indifferent to that constitutional violation.  The court also held that the plaintiffs had established a triable issue of fact regarding whether the classroom teacher violated clearly established law by depriving A.B. of education without due process.

The court also held that the plaintiffs' ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims warranted a trial.  The defendants argued that they did not discriminate on the basis of disability, but the court rejected that argument:
[T]he evidence shows that the District devised A.B.'s behavior management plan to deal with her disability and that such plan called for her to be strapped into the Restraint Chair. A.B. was denied the opportunity to participate in classroom activities while strapped into this chair, especially when [the classroom teacher] faced the chair to the wall and erected barriers around her. Thus, Plaintiffs have established a prima facie case of statutory disability discrimination.
The court also found sufficient evidence that the school district was deliberately indifferent to this discrimination to warrant a damages remedy against it.

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