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Failing to Follow School Board Policies May Not Amount to Deliberate Indifference

In the case of Ball v. Olentangy Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn., S.D.Ohio No. 2:20-cv-2681 (Feb. 28, 2022), a federal district court held that (1) a school board and principal did not violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”) as failing to comply with the school board’s anti-harassment policy did not constitute deliberate indifference in response to alleged peer-on-peer racial discrimination directed toward multiple students and (2) a teacher did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) as a student was not discriminated against based upon the student’s disability.

In this case, the students argued that (1) the school board and principal were deliberately indifferent to allegations of peer-on-peer racial discrimination in violation of Title VI as the principal failed to comply with school board policies mandating that the compliance officer be notified of multiple, racially motivated incidents in the school and against multiple students and (2) a teacher discriminated against a student based upon the student’s disability by both giving the student busywork during class and telling the other students that the student was hospitalized for attempted suicide. In response, the school board and principal argued that every incident of racial discrimination was dealt with promptly and adequately, and the teacher argued that the student was not treated differently than the student’s non-disabled peers and certainly not based upon the student’s disability. The federal district court agreed with the school board, principal, and teacher.

In support of its decision in favor of the school board and principal as to the Title VI claim, the federal district court explained that failing to follow internal policies — without more — does not constitute deliberate indifference; the school board subsequently adopted changes to its policies based upon input from the affected students; and the principal promptly addressed each incident brought to the principal’s attention and responded in a manner reasonably tailored to the applicable findings of each investigation.

In support of its decision in favor of the teacher as to the ADA claim, the federal district court explained that the student failed to produce any evidence that the student was treated differently than any of the student’s non-disabled peers and, in fact, the student and teacher were unfortunately on bad terms even before the student was considered disabled.

To read this case, click here. Reader Discretion Advised: Given the specific nature of the alleged racial harassment in this case, there is strong racial language throughout this opinion, which some readers may find distressing and disturbing.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

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.

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