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Sept. 7 — A teacher who released a kindergarten student to a stranger who sexually assaulted her isn't entitled to qualified immunity, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held Sept. 6 ( L.R. v. Sch. Dist. of Phila., 2016 BL 289838, 3d Cir., No. 14-4640, 9/6/16 ).
For a teacher to release a five-year-old child to a stranger who didn't produce identification when asked reveals more than deliberate indifference and “rises to conscience-shocking behavior,” Judge Julio M. Fuentes wrote for the court.
The girl's mother sued the teacher and the school district, alleging that her daughter's substantive due process rights were violated because the state created the danger that led to the assault.
The student was a foreseeable victim, the court said.
The school's policy prohibited releasing pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students to adults without proper identification because they “were aware that releasing a young child to a stranger is inherently dangerous,” it said.
The harm she suffered was also foreseeable: It's “a matter of common sense” that “releasing a young child to a stranger could result in harm to the child,” the court said.
Furthermore, the teacher allowed the girl to leave the classroom, which is distinguishable from failing to prevent an unauthorized person from taking her, it said.
Case law clearly established at the time of the assault that allowing a five-year-old student—who because of her youth was “especially vulnerable” to harm—to leave with a stranger could deprive the girl of her right not to be removed from a safe environment, the court concluded, denying qualified immunity.
Judges Cheryl Ann Krause and Jane R. Roth joined the opinion.
Kline & Specter, P.C., represented the girl. Archer & Greiner, P.C., represented the school defendants.
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