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Barnett v. Baldwin County Board of Education

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

June 9, 2015

ALEC DAVID BARNETT, JR., et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
BALDWIN COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

KRISTI K. DuBOSE, District Judge.

This action is before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Baldwin County Board of Education, Dr. Alan T. Lee, Norman Moore, Robert Callahan, Jr., David Cox, David Tarwater, Elmer McDaniel, Angie Swiger, Shannon Cauley, and Lee Mansell, narrative statement of undisputed facts, brief, and evidentiary submissions (docs. 60, 60-1, 61, 62, 62-1 through 62-8), the response filed by plaintiff Lenka Lampkin as parent and next friend of R.L., a minor (doc. 67), and the defendants' reply (doc. 75). Upon consideration, and for the reasons set forth herein, the motion is GRANTED in favor of all Defendants.[1], [2]

I. Procedural History

In September 2013, plaintiffs Alec David Barnett, Jr. as parent and next friend of R.P., a minor; Sidney Pennington as parent and next friend of D.P., a minor; Lenora Chapman as parent and next friend of D.C., a minor; Renee Williams as parent and next friend of A.W., a minor; Andre Stephenson as parent and next friend of L.S., a minor; Isabelle Martinez as parent and next friend of C.M., a minor; and Lenka Lampkin as parent and next friend of R.L., a minor, filed suit against Defendants Baldwin County Board of Education; Superintendent Alan T. Lee; Board President Norman Moore; Board Vice President Robert Callahan, Jr.; Board Members David Cox, David Tarwater, Elmer McDaniel, Angie Swiger, and Shannon Cauley; Principal Lee Mansell and Principal Chuck Anderson. (Doc. 1)

Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, which was granted in part and denied in part. (Doc. 38) As a result, certain claims of Barnett, Pennington, Williams, Stephenson, and Martinez were dismissed for failure to exhaust their administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education (IDEA) and the Court declined jurisdiction over their state law tort claims. They were dismissed from the action.

Defendant Anderson was dismissed from this action. He was the principal at Central Baldwin Middle School. The claims brought on behalf of A.W., the student who attended his school, were dismissed for failure to exhaust the administrative remedies under the IDEA, and the Court declined jurisdiction over the state law tort claims.

The remaining plaintiffs, Chapman and Lampkin, were ordered to file an amended complaint. Ultimately, their fourth amended complaint was allowed by the Court and became the operative complaint in this action. (Doc. 51) Chapman's claims were dismissed for failure to prosecute and failure to comply with the Court's orders. (Doc. 59) The remaining Defendants have now filed their motion for summary judgment as to the claims of the remaining plaintiff Lampkin, that are raised on behalf of her minor child, R.L.in Counts I, II, IV, and VI. (Doc. 60)

II. Findings of Fact

From 2007 through 2010, R.L. attended Foley Intermediate School (FIS) in Baldwin County, Alabama, for the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Grades. FIS is within the jurisdiction of defendant Baldwin County Board of Education. At that time, FIS transitioned from a Fourth and Fifth Grade intermediate school to a Fifth and Sixth Grade intermediate school. R.L. was taught by Ms. Stewart in the Fourth Grade, Ms. Prince in the Fifth Grade, and Ms. Manilakis in the Sixth Grade. Defendant Lee Mansell was principal.

The school records indicate that R.L. was classified as white. (Doc. 62-2, R.L.'s Discipline Report indicating his race as "W") Moreover, Principal Mansell never considered him to be a minority student. (Doc. 62-4, p. 6, Mansell Affidavit) R.L. is now sixteen years old and in the Eleventh Grade. R.L. testified that Lampkin, his mother, is white and his father is "black and white". R.L. considers himself to be white.[3] (Doc. 62-1, p. 13-14, Deposition of R.L). Lampkin testified that R.L. was white. (Doc. 62-3, p. 12, Deposition of Lampkin)[4] Lampkin also testified that she never thought of R.L. as a minority student. (Doc. 62-3, p. 13)

Baldwin County Board of Education Policy #919, which was in effect at all relevant times, states that the Board of Education shall maintain an on-campus suspension [OCS] program as necessary to provide a structured discipline atmosphere in which students could be isolated or removed from regular classroom activities but is not dismissed from school. Local school administrators made decisions on implementation of the policy concerning OCS. (Doc. 62-6, p. 2, Affidavit of Alan Lee, Superintendent)

Board Policy #917a, which was in effect at all relevant times, lists the class of student offenses, which are divided into Class I, II and III, and the possible sanctions. OCS was a possible sanction for all categories of student offenses. Pursuant to the policy, an administrator was allowed to use his or her discretion in determining which sanction should be given. If parents or students disagreed with the decision of the school administration, the policy provided for a grievance to the Superintendent and then to the Board of Education. (Doc. 62-6, p. 2)

FIS did not have a classroom dedicated to OCS. School staff arranged four study carrels outside of the main office for students' use while in OCS. (Doc. 62-4, p. 3) Principal Mansell used her discretion to determine whether R.L. was to be placed in OCS and the location. (Id., p. 5) R.L. testified that the carrels were "in the lobby" and that "you walk outside the office and walk around the corner and they were against the wall." (Doc. 62-1. p. 17) The carrels were in a hallway and were visible to office staff through a large window in the wall of the main office, as well as through the window in Principal Mansell's office door and the hall camera. The carrels were positioned so that office staff and Principal Mansell could see the students if they stood up or raised their hands. (Doc. 62-4, p. 3-5)

From 2007 through 2010, while R.L. was at FIS, the carrels were painted turquoise instead of black. He never referred to them as black boxes but referred to the carrels as "OCS" or "boxes". (Doc. 62-1, p. 17, 45)

During the 2011 and 2012 school year, the Board discontinued use of the carrels for students assigned to OCS. (Doc. 62-4, p. 5) The carrels are stored at the Board's warehouse in Bay Minette, Alabama. They are made out of wood, painted a dark color, and measure 30 inches deep, 37.5 inches wide, and 48 inches high. (Doc. 62-7, Affidavit of Walter K. Mason) The carrels did not have chairs attached. When a student sat in a chair in the carrel, it could not be positioned flush with the wall behind the student. The students could see over the walls when they stood up. The carrels were light and made of thin wood. They were placed on a tile floor and easily moved. Students could move them with a single hand. (Doc. 62-1, p. 3-4) In the summer of 2010, after R.L. was no longer at the school, an assistant principal painted the carrels black because students were writing and drawing pictures on the carrels. (Doc. 62-4, p. 3)

In the Fourth Grade, R.L. was placed in the carrel one time. In the second semester, R.L.'s teacher sent him to the office for "talking back and running around" but did not "write" him up. (Doc. 62-1, p. 18-20) At the office, he met with either Ms. Stiles[5] or Principal Mansell. R.L. could not recall who told him to sit in the carrel. He did recall that Ms. Stiles walked with him to the carrel in the hallway and his teacher Ms. Stewart brought his class work to him. R.L. remained in the carrel for the rest of the school day. That was the only time he sat in the carrel during the Fourth Grade. No other students were in the carrels that morning. However, during the Fourth Grade, he saw other students sitting in the carrels but did not know who they were. (Doc. 62-1, p. 19-24)

In the first semester of the Fifth Grade, R.L's teacher Ms. Prince sent him to the office because he "threw something across the room" which was a "piece of paper" aimed at his friend J.T. He did not hit J.T. Principal Mansell was not there. Ms. Stiles told him to sit in a carrel in the hallway and he chose the one in which to sit. He did not know if students were sitting in the other carrels. R.L. sat in the carrel two more times in the Fifth Grade but he does not remember "when" or "what for." On those two occasions, he does not recall seeing other students in the carrels when he arrived. Each time his class work was brought to the carrel and he sat in the carrel until the end of the school day. (Doc. 62-1, p. 25-29)

On one occasion when R.L. was placed in the carrel in the hall, Ms. Stiles brought his lunch to him. On the other days, he either walked with Ms. Stiles to lunch or told her his lunch number and she brought his lunch. (Doc. 62-1, p. 33-35) On one occasion, R.L.'s lunch was brought to him late, around 1:30 or 2:00. The lunch hour was typically 11:30 and 1:00. (Doc. 62-1, p. 50) When he needed to use the restroom, R.L. would either raise his hand or just go to the restroom. He never urinated or defecated on himself or threw-up while in the carrel. (Doc. 62-1, p. 35-36)

During the second semester of R.L.'s Fifth Grade year, his teacher Ms. Prince placed a carrel in the classroom and from the end of March until the end of the school year in May 2009, R.L. sat in the carrel. He was the only student in her classroom to sit in a carrel instead of a desk. He did not speak to anyone about why he was in the carrel. R.L. worked on his classwork along with the class, except when he did not understand his work. Sometimes he would raise his hand and ask Ms. Prince about the work he did not understand. Ms. Prince put his desk in the carrel and pushed it "all the way against the corner and told [R.L.] not to come out." R.L. did not tell his mother or anyone at school. When he would get in the carrel, he "would push it off the wall." (Doc. 62-1. p. 29-33) He was allowed to move the carrel and did not "get in trouble" if he moved it, but Ms. Prince "just pushed it back if it needed it". (Doc. 62-1, p. 48)

During this time, R.L. went to lunch, P.E., break unless he had break detention, the library, and art or music class with his classmates. (Doc. 62, p. 29-33) He never urinated or defecated on himself or threw-up while in the carrel in the classroom. (Doc. 62-1, p. 36) During this time, R.L. thought that Principal Mansell walked in the classroom "once or twice to talk to Ms. Prince." (Doc. 62-1, p. 48)

Ms. Prince was employed as an Intervention Teacher for the Fifth and Sixth Grade students at FIS. During the 2008-2009 school year, she had "difficulties" with R.L. "not focusing or staying in his seat." In the spring, Ms. Prince met with Lampkin to discuss strategies to help R.L. focus. They discussed placing R.L. at a carrel instead of a desk, which was a strategy Ms. Prince had used successfully in the past with other students. Ms. Prince believed that Lampkin agreed to this strategy and after the meeting, the carrel was moved into the classroom. Ms. Prince could see R.L.'s hand when raised and R.L. could see the blackboard from the carrel. Ms. Prince never prohibited R.L. from leaving the classroom to go to the restroom, lunch, music, art, or P.E. Ms. Prince believed that sitting in the carrel was a successful strategy ...


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