Education Law

School's use of 'timeout room' didn’t violate Constitution, 10th Circuit rules

An Oklahoma school district that placed a special education student in a “timeout room” to stop his unruly behavior did not violate his constitutional rights, a federal appeals court has ruled.

In an opinion (PDF) issued on Tuesday, the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the civil rights suit filed by the child’s parents against the Deer Creek Public Schools, reports Education Week’s School Law Blog.

The boy, identified as J.M., was placed in the small room for up to four minutes at a time, the record showed, though the school didn’t always keep track of the time. He was between 5 and 10 years old during the time in question.

After J.M.’s parents became concerned about the timeouts, they told the school district in 2004 that their son did not have the mental maturity to understand why he was placed in the room and the timeouts should be discontinued, the opinion says. Yet the school’s principal authorized continued timeouts for J.M., if needed, according to the parents’ suit. He was placed in the room at least 30 times in the 2004-2005 and 2005-06 school years. His parents removed him from the school the next school year.

The principal was the only one of three individual defendants who had placed the boy in the timeout room, and she did so only once, the opinion says. According to the J.M.’s parents, the principal had grabbed the boy’s arms, forced him into the timeout room, and placed a chair in front of the door to keep him inside as he screamed for release. The timeout lasted about four minutes.

The appeals court said school-inflicted corporal punishment violates the14th Amendment’s due process clause if it shocks the conscience. The single timeout by the principal did not meet the standard, the court said. The suit also claimed the school district was liable because its timeouts were part of an official policy or violation. But the school was protected, the court said, because the parents failed to show any school employee committed a constitutional violation.

The case is Muskrat v. Deer Creek Public Schools.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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