The Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in S.R. & L.G. v. Kenton County, et al, in federal court in the Eastern District of Kentucky. The case may have implications in cases in which your juvenile clients have had contact with a School Resource Officer (SRO) that led to unreasonable seizure (i.e., handcuffing) and/or the use of excessive force. The plaintiffs in this case are two elementary school children – named in the complaint as eight-year-old third grader S.R. and nine-year-old fourth grader L.G. – who allege that an SRO violated their rights under the Fourth and 14th Amendment and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when the SRO handcuffed them in school, behind their backs, above their elbows, and at their biceps, after the children exhibited conduct arising out of their disabilities. Beyond a discussion of the appropriateness of such a seizure, the SOI lays out the Department’s expectations of any student-SRO interaction and the legal reasoning behind them.
The Department’s SOI provides the court with a framework to assess the plaintiffs’ claim. The SOI is divided into three sections:
· First, the Department calls for the need to appropriately delineate the roles and responsibilities of SROs and for specialized training. Specifically, the Department states that SROs should not enforce the school code of conduct or engage in routine discipline of students, but rather should only be focused on addressing and preventing serious, real, and immediate threats to the physical safety of the school and its community.
· Second, the Department outlines the appropriate standard for evaluating the legality of the SRO’s seizure of the children under the Fourth Amendment: the court must consider whether an objectively reasonable officer would have seized the children by handcuffing them for their misbehavior, considering the totality of the circumstances.
· Third, the Department argues that the ADA applies to interactions between SROs and children with disabilities. Accordingly, SROs must reasonably modify their practices when needed to interact with students disabilities to avoid disability-based discrimination.
The Statement of Interest is attached and the press release is available here: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-files-statement-interest-kentucky-school-handcuffing-case.