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Fifth Circuit Agrees Aggressive and Intimidating Tactics by Law Enforcement Have No Place In School

Tuesday, September 3, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jamie Anderson

On August 28, 2019, parents prevailed in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Wilson v. City of Southlake, et al., which reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for defendants’ on plaintiffs’ Section 504 and ADA claims related to the abusive and harassing treatment of their eight-year old son with significant emotional disabilities by a School Resource Officer (SRO).   The district court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendant was premised upon its reliance upon the Hainze exception which holds that police are not required to make Title II of the ADA reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities if there exist exigent, life-threatening circumstances. 


The Fifth Circuit, echoing the arguments set forth by the Plaintiffs and  Amici’s  brief, found that the Hainze exception did not apply to the facts of this case.  The Court of Appeals determined it was merely a “disruption” and not a “life threatening situation or threat to human life” when the eight-year-old child with disabilities, known to the officer, was upset and threatening to hit staff with a jump rope provided by the school which he referred to as “nunchucks.”  The Fifth Circuit additionally found that under the facts of this case, there was no reasonable basis for the SRO’s simultaneous handcuffing and antagonizing remarks to the student, such as “you want to act like a punk, this is what happens to little punk kids!”  Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit vacated the grant of summary judgment and remanded the case to the district court. 


Amici were COPAA, Disability Rights Texas, National Center for Youth Law and Texas Appleseed. Megan Self, of DLA Piper US LLP, represented Amici along with Richard Delgado from Dentons US LLP. 


The Fifth Circuit’s decision is a great victory for the family and COPAA attorney Martin Cirkiel and supports COPAA’s mission to end the use of aggressive and intimidating tactics by law enforcement personnel upon students with disabilities.  To that end, COPAA urges the use of a written Memorandum of Understanding which clearly defines the role and responsibility of school safety and law personnel within the school.  COPAA’s policy incorporated into this written Memorandum between school and law enforcement urges districts to require law enforcement personnel within the school to “receive comprehensive training to enable them to work in collaboration with school personnel to maintain a safe and positive school climate; interact effectively and appropriately with students; understand types of disability diagnosis and how such disability may manifest; and the relationships between disability, behavior and communication.”  Moreover, and as well-supported by this decision from the Fifth Circuit, COPAA’s policy urges that “schools should not utilize law enforcement officers for behavior management or in attempts to scare students into compliance.” 


Read the decision in Wilson v. Southlake, et al

Read COPAA’s Statement on School Safety.

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