Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Federal appeals court upholds dismissal of case of parents whose autistic son wandered off school grounds, found nude

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which covers Ohio, last week upheld a District Court's dismissal of a case brought by the parents of an autistic child who had wandered off school grounds and was found sometime later, nude and covered in mud. The matter is

The case was brought by David and Linda Parker and on behalf of their non-verbal autistic son, A.P. against the school principal, the school gym teacher, and the teacher's aide assigned to watch A.P. during gym class. While in gym class, A.P. wandered out of his afternoon gym class through an open gym door and out into the surrounding neighborhood. Upon discovering A.P.’s absence, the aide notified school officials, who initiated a search. With the help of local police, A.P. was found
several hours later, naked and covered in mud, a number of blocks away from school. The appeals court found that there was no evidence that A.P. was harmed during his absence from school and no evidence as to why he was not clothed when found.

A.P.’s parents then filed a lawsuit, alleging that in allowing him to wander
out of gym class the defendants had violated his substantive due process right “to be secure at school.” After discovery, the district court dismissed the matter because A.P. could not show the deprivation of a constitutional right. The appellate court held that A.P. had a right to "bodily integrity" under the Constitution, there was no evidence that right had been denied because though dirty and unclothed, there was no evidence of trauma or injury, be it physical or psychological.

Had A.P. suffered a physical or mental trauma, I believe the Court might have come to a different conclusion. Luckily for the school officials here, the Court did not find an injury had occurred.

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