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Summary Judgment for School District Affirmed in Case Involving Child Abuse by Teacher

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By FindLaw Staff on June 29, 2010 2:02 PM

T.W. v. Sch. Bd. of Seminole Cty., Fla., No. 09-12623, involved an action claiming that defendant school board violated a disabled student's constitutional right to be free from excessive corporal punishment or discriminated against the student solely by reason of his disability, in violation of a federal statute, due to a teacher's physical and verbal abuse of the student on several occasions.  The Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for defendants, on the ground that the evidence overwhelmingly established that the teacher's use of force during the incidents at issue was related to the student's disruptive or self-injurious conduct and was for the purpose of discipline.

As the court wrote:  "This appeal presents the questions whether a teacher violated a disabled student's constitutional right to be free from excessive corporal punishment or discriminated against the student solely by reason of his disability, in violation of a federal statute, when the teacher physically and verbally abused the student on several occasions. The student, T.W., was enrolled for several months in Kathleen Garrett's autism class at a middle school in Seminole County, Florida. On a few occasions, Garrett physically restrained T.W. in response to his disruptive conduct. Garrett also occasionally called T.W. names, provoked him, and used profanity around him. There is evidence that Garrett's actions aggravated T.W.'s developmental disability, but there is no evidence that Garrett caused T.W. to suffer any serious physical injuries. T.W., by and through his mother, complained that Garrett and the School Board of Seminole County violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and that the School Board discriminated against him because of his disability in violation of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Garrett and the School Board. Although the events that allegedly transpired in Garrett's classroom are troubling, we conclude that T.W.'s complaint that Garrett and the School Board violated his constitutional and federal statutory rights fails as a matter of law. We affirm the summary judgment in favor of Garrett and the School Board."

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