Paddled student's family files claim


3/22/2003

By KAREN TOLKKINEN, Staff Reporter
Mobile (Alabama) Register



Photos taken day of incident show bruises

The Jackson family of a 12-year-old special education student, who was paddled in her school last fall, has filed a $3 million claim against the Clarke County School Board, contending the child's rights were violated.

The family's attorney, James D. Sears of Daphne, on Friday showed the Mobile Register photos of bruises he said were left on the girl when teacher Anthony Ezell hit her with a thick piece of carpet molding.

The photos, taken the day of the incident, clearly show two long red marks across her buttocks, as well as about a dozen spidery marks Sears said resulted from the bruises.

The girl's mother, Theresa Coulter, has requested a due process hearing to determine whether school officials followed school board policy and federal law and whether the school system owes them financial compensation.

State law says teachers who use corporal punishment are immune from civil and criminal liability, but only if they follow established board policy.

Sears said the family would probably request the hearing be open to the public. The claim notifies the public agency of the possibility of a federal lawsuit.

Clarke County school system attorney Bruce Wilson said no hearing date has been scheduled.

We've just received it, and we're trying to evaluate it, he said of the family's request for a due process hearing.

Ezell said he paddled the girl, Katelyn McIntyre, and three others when his special education class repeatedly ignored his warnings to settle down. The assistant principal acted as witness, as policy requires. The disciplinary measures worked, Ezell said. His class settled down.

According to the claim, which was filed March 12, the 12-year-old girl was diagnosed as having an attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. School officials have said the girl had a learning disability in reading.

School board policy established in 1987 states that a special education student should not receive corporal punishment until it's determined whether the student's disability caused the misbehavior. Wilson, the school board attorney, reached after the education office closed, faxed the Mobile Register his copy of the policy but said he did not know whether it was current.

Sears said he understands that to be the policy still, and that nobody took that step. Moreover, he said, the school system has never prepared an individual education plan for the girl as required by federal law for all special education students.

Ezell, reached late Friday on his cell phone, said he had read the board's policy and said that the girl was not disciplined for anything related to her disability, which he said was academic, not behavioral.

Teachers have other means to subdue misbehavior among special education students, such as using time-outs and emphasizing good behavior, Sears said.

The use of corporal punishment is a basic failure of intellect, he said. I can't figure out anything else to do, so I'm going to hit him or hit her.

Family members say the Clarke County School System owes them $3 million for emotional distress, physical pain and suffering and extreme and outrageous conduct of the teacher in leveling severe physical abuse.

The family's other requests include:

More training for school personnel in how to work with special education students.

More corporal punishment training for all Jackson Middle School personnel.

An investigation into why carpet molding was used.

Reimbursement for all medical, psychological and psychiatric treatment for the child.

A complete copy of Ezell's personnel record.

The case has been complicated by criminal charges. The girl's older brother, Christopher Anthony Payne, is accused of attacking Ezell in retaliation for the use of corporal punishment.

A Clarke County grand jury declined to indict him, and the Alabama Education Association has asked the Alabama attorney general to prosecute.



Tennesseans for Nonviolent School Discipline: www.forkidsake.org