(CN) – A teacher with an alleged sadistic streak did not violate a disabled student’s constitutional rights by pinning him down when he acted out, the 11th Circuit ruled, though it described the allegations as “troubling.” The teacher allegedly told the student that he stinks and called him lazy, an asshole, a pig and a jerk, according to the boy’s mother.
The student, identified as T.W., sued teacher Kathleen Mary Garrett, the School Board of Seminole County and the Florida Department of Financial Services through his mother, Tracy Wilson.
Wilson claims Garrett violated her son’s due process rights and discriminated against him based on his disability while T.W. attended Garrett’s autism class at South Seminole Middle School.
The teacher was allegedly transferred to South Seminole following an investigation into complaints that she mistreated students at a previous school. Though the evidence did not substantiate the complaints, “Garrett engaged in a number of abusive behaviors while she was a teacher at South Seminole,” the ruling states.
“Garrett used profanity in her classroom daily and directed at her students, including T.W.,” Judge William Pryor wrote. She allegedly told T.W. “that he stinks and called him lazy, an asshole, a pig, and a jerk,” the ruling states. “She frequently teased T.W. and agitated him until he became angry.”
When warned that she should watch what she says around the kids, Garrett allegedly replied that the students “were all stupid shits and dumb asses and they would … never go home and tell.”
T.W. has been diagnosed with autism or pervasive developmental disorder, causing him to act aggressively toward himself and others.
Wilson says Garrett physically restrained her son at least four times, including once when she put him face-first on the ground, straddled him and pulled his arms behind his back. Wilson hired a psychology who concluded that Garrett’s behavior “aggravated [T.W.’s] developmental disability,” while another said T.W. “was indeed traumatized and abused in the school environment.”
Garrett was arrested on charges of child abuse in November 2004, and a jury found her guilty of one count, though the court withheld a final ruling.
Investigators discovered “images on the hard drive of one of the (classroom) computers of Garrett engaged in sexual acts that were masochistic or sadistic in nature,” the ruling states. A psychiatrist hired by T.W. said Garrett’s alleged abuse of her students was “consistent with someone whose private sadistic sexual practices spilled over into a classroom setting.”
A federal judge dismissed the constitutional claims against Garrett and the school board, and the federal appeals court in Atlanta voted 2-1 to affirm.
“T.W.’s claim against Garrett fails … because Garrett’s conduct is not the kind of ‘arbitrary, egregious, and conscience-shocking behavior’ that is actionable under the Constitution,” Pryor wrote for the majority.
“Although there is evidence that Garrett harbored animosity for T.W. and other students entrusted to her care, that evidence does not support a reasonable inference that Garrett abused T.W. solely because of his disability” (original emphasis).
Judge Rosemary Barkett sharply disagreed.
“A reasonable jury could find that Garrett’s restraints, use of force, and conduct constituted abuse of T.W. for more than a year for behavior that was expected, normal, and uncontrollable for a developmentally disabled child,” she wrote.