In Crochran v. Columbus City Schools, 17-4110 (6th Cir. 2018), the federal appellate court ruled that a special education teacher’s use of a body sock to restrain a disruptive autistic student was not a constitutional violation and within her rights to use.
The case involved a student with both autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder who was acting out and disrupting class. The student’s teacher tried several of his prescribed behavioral treatments to calm the student but none were working. The teacher then asked the student if he would like to go into a body sock and the student voluntarily went into the sock. After being sealed into the sock, the student tripped and suffered damage to his teeth requiring endodontic treatment.
The parents of the student sued the teacher and the school claiming the use of the body sock violated the student’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures and his Fourteenth Amendment right to be protected from arbitrary actions by government employees. The parents argued that the body sock was not specifically listed as a behavioral treatment for their son and the teacher had no right to constrain him in a way that allow him to be injured.
The federal appellate court disagreed. Looking to the student’s individualized education program (“IEP”), the court found that the student needed occupational therapy to assist with his sensory processing, which is what the body sock was for. Additionally, the court found that the student voluntarily went into the body sock – the teacher did not force the student into it. As to the student’s injury, the court stated that it was incidental to him being in a body sock and not malicious.
In sum, as long as the behavioral treatment is suited to the individual student and does not exceed the IEP, courts are likely willing to protect the teachers from constitutional claims.
To read this case, click here.
Authors: Matthew John Markling, Patrick Vrobel, and John Sulik.
Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.