DENVER — An appeals court this week ruled that staff of an Oklahoma County school did not violate a developmentally disabled student's rights by briefly putting him into a small “timeout room” when he was disruptive.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday against the boy's parents, who sued the Deer Creek School District and staff of Deer Creek Elementary School in 2008.
The lawsuit also alleged a teacher and an aide physically abused the boy — who had the mental age of 3 or less — in three instances.
The boy was put into the room at least 30 times, according to school logs, in the school years 2004-05 and 2005-06, judges of the Denver-based court wrote in a 31-page decision.
They decided 3-0 that the timeout procedure, used when the boy kicked, hit, spit, overturned chairs or threw tantrums, was not a violation of his constitutional rights because the staff's conduct “did not shock the conscience.”
Conduct shocking the conscience is the established legal standard for a court to find a constitutional violation in the circumstances cited in the lawsuit about an abuse of government power.
The appeals court decision upheld a summary judgment in favor of the defendants that Senior Judge Tim Leonard of U.S. District Court in Oklahoma City had issued.
The room was big enough for a student and teacher to fit in it, had a light and a door without a lock. The longest timeout for the boy was four minutes and it was unclear whether he was left alone in the room, according to court records.
The boy ranged in age from 5 to 10 during the five years he attended the school. The parents made written and oral demands to school administrators not to put their son in timeout, the judges stated.
The judges concluded the alleged physical abuse — slapping the boy's arm, restraining him at his desk and popping him on the cheek — did not rise to the level of being shocking to the conscience.
The school “decommissioned” its timeout room for the 2006-07 school year, the judges stated.
In one incident, the principal forced the boy into the room against his will and placed a chair in front of the door while he yelled to be let out, according to the lawsuit.