First District: Student’s One-Day Suspension for Staring at Girl Affirmed
A Cincinnati area private school had the right to suspend a 12-year-old boy for one day when the principal deemed the child intimidated a female student during a staring showdown, an Ohio appeals court ruled.
The First District Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court upholding the punishment rendered by St. Gabriel Consolidated School of Glendale.
The parents, identified in court records as Darryl and Candace T., unsuccessfully argued that their son, D.T., was unfairly punished for the incident. After they were unable to convince the pastors overseeing the school and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to remove the suspension from their son’s academic record, they filed a lawsuit in common pleas court.
Writing for the appeals court, Judge R. Patrick DeWine describes the incident as starting during a snack break in a seventh-grade classroom where D.T. and another boy “stared at a girl while walking toward her, eventually backing her into a corner.” The girl told her parents that night she felt uncomfortable and fearful, and the parents sent a letter the next day to the school.
Principal Nicole Brainard investigated the matter, and after speaking with all three students concluded that the boys’ behavior had been intimidating to the girl and that a one-day suspension for each boy was appropriate. Brainard had D.T. serve his suspension the next day, and she called his mother to inform her of the suspension. The parents accepted a “due process hearing” offered by Brainard.
Judge DeWine wrote the principal, parents and two teachers attended the hearing and Brainard concluded the suspension was appropriate, and would stay on D.T.’s record. The family appealed to the trial court arguing the school handbook is a contract between them and St. Gabriel, and that Brainard’s discipline amounted to a breach of contract. The trial court refused to declare the handbook a contract, and found the discipline didn’t violate the terms of the handbook, and the parents appealed to the First District.
Judge DeWine stated judges are less suited than school administrators to decide student discipline. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1968 Epperson v. Arkansas decision, he asserted the court’s authority is limited.
“Thus as a general rule, courts do not and cannot intervene in the resolution of conflicts which arise in the daily operation of school systems and which do not directly and sharply implicate basic constitutional values,” he wrote.
He wrote that St. Gabriel’s handbook requires parents and students to sign the handbook acknowledging they read it and agreed to follow the policies and procedures in it. The handbook advises parents that if they or their child can’t agree to the code of conduct, they should seek out another school. Judge DeWine explained the handbook is similar to employee handbooks that other Ohio appeals court have found them to be “a unilateral statement of rules and policies which creates no rights or obligations,” and doesn’t have the exchange of obligations required to be a contract.
Judge DeWine further noted that even if the handbook were a contract, Brainard didn’t violate any provisions because she found D.T.’s behavior was intimidation. The handbook states that threatening or intimidating acts toward another are unacceptable and grounds for suspension or expulsion.
“D.T.’s parents are upset that their son was suspended from school. Another principal may have handled the matter differently. But for good reason, our review of a school’s disciplinary decisions is limited. It is not this court’s place to insert itself into the daily decision-making of school administrators,” he concluded.
Judge Sylvia Sieve Hendon concurred in the decision, and Judge Penelope R. Cunningham concurred in judgment only.
D.T. v. St. Gabriel Consol. School, 2016-Ohio-784
Civil Appeal from: Hamilton County Common Pleas Court
Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed
Date of Judgment Entry on Appeal: March 2, 2016
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