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Qualified immunity for teacher rejected

A child who suffers from cerebral palsy has a constitutional right to be free from unreasonable restraint, even though her condition requires her to be strapped into a wheelchair for much of the school day, a divided panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says today in an unpublished opinion.

The majority rejects the claim of qualified immunity raised by a teacher and teacher’s aide in a class for students with severe disabilities in a Chesterfield County school. If, as alleged in the complaint, the  teacher and the aide “were physically restraining H.H. for hours on end, and using that time to verbally abuse her and stategize against her, that behavior shocks the conscience” and “a reasonable teacher would plainly recognize that maliciously restraining a child for long periods of time was unlawful,” Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote for the majority.Judge Paul V. Niemeyer dissented. “While H.H. and her mother may have claims for alleged failures to educate H.H. properly, they should not be allowed to morph those claims into constitutional claims against teachers in their personal capacity,” he said.

The case goes back to Senior Judge Richard L. Williams in Richmond for discovery and trial.

By Alan Cooper

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