In Texas, two school employees have been sued after they allegedly verbally abused a boy for being “smelly” and forced him to strip and shower in front of them. The boy was just eight years old and attended Peaster Elementary School. The child’s parents, Amber and Michael Tilley, also filed a police report but no charges were brought against the employees. The lawsuit names Peaster Independent School District and Peaster Elementary School employees Julie West and Debbie Van Rite in federal court in Fort Worth.
The complaint alleges that the boy was taken to the nurse’s office where the employees “began violently washing his body with a washcloth, scrubbing him over a large portion of his body, stuck cotton balls in his ears, all while ridiculing and harassing him about being ‘dirty.’”
If the complaint allegations are true, the treatment of the third grader is truly shocking. Indeed, I cannot imagine adults showering a child without parental notice and consent absent some immediate medical emergency. The case raises a curious line between civil and criminal laws. If a teacher forces a student to strip for pleasure, he is criminally charged. However, if he did so for “bad hygiene” and proceeded to hand wash the child, it is not a crime? I am not necessarily disagreeing with the decision not to charge the employees criminally. I have been critical of the over-criminalization of conduct and intent should be the dominant factor in such an analysis. I simply find it interesting in how such cases are divided between the civil and criminal dockets.
I believe the case probably does belong on the civil side and furthermore I cannot see a viable defense to such an action. A boy in the third grade would be highly traumatized by such an act. As the father of three boys and a girl under 13, I can attest to the intense privacy notions that kick in early with children. You can add feelings of shame and self-loathing that would likely come from such an extreme act. Expert testimony in the case could be devastating for the school district.
It will be interesting to see if the District tries to portray the two employees as “rogue employees” who acted without permission.
Such measures also warp a student’s sense of not just autonomy but authority. The school’s motto “Preparing Today’s Youth for Tomorrow” has a chilling ring if this is what students are being taught about their rights as individual vis-à-vis the state.
Source: Courthouse News