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K.C. v. Board of Education of Marshall County Schools

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

January 29, 2018



          Thomas B. Russell Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Marshall County Board of Education's motion for summary judgment, [DN 21.] Plaintiff K.C., by and through his parents T.C. and K.C., responded to Defendant's motion, [DN 22], and Defendant replied, [DN 25.] Fully briefed, this matter is now ripe for consideration. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is GRANTED. The Court will enter a separate Order and Judgment consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.


         Plaintiff, K.C., is a minor child with cerebral palsy. [DN 1 at 3 (Complaint).] K.C.'s condition renders him unable to communicate verbally and requires that he receive his nutrition through a gastronomy tube in his stomach. [Id] At the times relevant to this complaint, K.C. attended Central Elementary, a Marshall County public school. [Id] During the 2015-2016 school year, K.C. was placed in a "functional mental disability" classroom in which he was taught by a special education teacher, Crystal Teckenbrock. [Id; DN 21-1 at 1.] Near the end of April 2016, KC.'s mother, T.C, "received a report from a mother of a classmate . . . that KC was being abused by" Teckenbrock. [DN 21-4 at 6 (T.C. Deposition).] The classmate's mother, Heather Lane, informed T.C. that her child "had c[o]me home upset and kept telling her that . . . the teacher, Ms. Crystal, is . . . being mean to KC and that she feels really bad for him." [Id. at 6-7.] In detail, T.C. testified that Lane told her that Lane's child "said that [Teckenbrock is] mean. She yells at him. She gets in his face. He sits in timeout for long periods of time ... She yanks him and is very rough with him." [Id. at 8.]

         Not long after her phone call from Lane, on approximately April 29, 2016, T.C. and K.C's father, whose initials are also K.C., spoke with Joanna Cash, a classroom aide in K.C.'s classroom with Teckenbrock in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel. [Id. at 14-15.] During that conversation, T.C. claims that Cash told her that she "[wa]s tired of crying herself to sleep because she's witnessed Ms. Crystal abusing K.C." [Id. at 15.] "She witnessed . . . her pull his hair, verbally screaming at him, in his face, " and "him being in timeouts for lengthy amount[s] of time, " sometimes for hours at a time. [Id. at 15-16.] T.C. testified that, during their meeting, Cash provided her with a "typed letter of concerns" with items for T.C. "to check into that [Cash] had concerns about." [DN 22-4 at 7 (T.C. Deposition).] K.C.'s parents recorded their conversation with Cash. [DN 22-4 (Transcript of Conversation); DN 22-5 (K.C. Deposition).] Following these events, K.C.'s parents removed him from school for the remainder of the school year. [DN 22-8 (T.C. Declaration).]

         On May 1, 2016, K.C.'s parents went to the Marshall County Sherriff s Office to report the alleged abuse of K.C. occurring in Teckenbrock's classroom. [DN 22-4 at 5.] The parties agree that May 1, 2016 "was the first time [K.C.'s parents] reported any alleged mistreatment of KC within the Marshall County School District to anyone." [Id] K.C.'s father testified that he played the recording of his and T.C.'s conversation with Cash at the Sherriff s office. [DN 22-5 at 40.]

         Stephen Flatt, the Director of Special Education at Marshall County Schools, testified that he found out about the allegations against Teckenbrock when he received a call from Pat Gold, the Interim Principal at Central Elementary at the time. [DN 22-7 at 11 (Flatt Deposition).] Flatt testified that Gold indicated that she had received a call from the Sherriff s Department regarding allegations of abuse of K.C., and that the Department would be conducting an investigation. [Id] Ray Chumbler, the "school resource officer" ("SRO") was in charge of that investigation. [Id. at 11-12.] An SRO is "a joint partnership between [Marshall County Schools] and the Marshall County Sherriff s Department." [DN 22-6 at 15 (Lovett Deposition).] At Interim Principal Gold's request, Flatt sat in on each interview Officer Chumbler conducted. [DN 22-7 at 13-15.] Officer Chumbler interviewed Jennifer Parker[1], Joanna Cash, and Crystal Teckenbrock. [Id. at 15.] Officer Chumbler's questions were "[f]rying to find out if they had witnessed or seen anything in regards to abuse or neglect or the treatment of KC." [Id. at 17.] According to Flatt, Jennifer Parker stated that she "had not seen anything that she would consider to be abuse or neglect or mistreatment." [Id.]

         Flatt testified that, during Cash's interview, she explained that she once heard a "swatting" noise coming from the room in which Teckenbrock was changing K.C.'s clothes, but that she did not know who was doing the swatting. [Id. at 19-22.] Flat also explained that Cash referenced a hair-pulling incident, but explained that Teckenbrock was merely trying to pull K.C.'s hands out of his hair to prevent him from pulling his own hair. [Id. at 22.] Flatt could not recall Cash stating that she had witnessed Teckenbrock scream in K.C.'s face or leave K.C. in time out for extended periods. [Id. at 22-24.] However, Cash testified that, during her interview with Officer Chumbler, she did tell him that she had seen Teckenbrock pull K.C's hair, scream in his face, and that she heard her spank him. [DN 22-1 at 32.] However, Cash testified that she did not prepare the document that she gave to K.C.'s parents at Cracker Barrel which had a list of questions for K.C.'s parents to check into. [Id. at 17.] Cash was unable to say who did prepare it, however. [Id.]

         By declaration, K.C.'s father averred that he called Officer Chumbler on May 2, 2016 to offer him the recording of the conversation with Cash and the list of questions and answers that Cash provided to them at Cracker Barrel. [DN 22-9 (K.C. Declaration). According to K.C.'s father, "[h]e said it was not needed because he already made his conclusions of no abuse. He said it sounded like an 'unruly' situation to him and he was finished with his investigation." [Id.]

         Flatt testified that, at the conclusion of the interviews, Officer Chumbler informed him that he did not see "any way to . . . prove that this really took place based on . . . what I found and what they've said . . . they can't make a case on this." [DN 22-7 at 29.] "He basically said, you know, he can't prove it happened." [Id] Flatt, in turn, informed Superintendent Trent Lovett that Officer Chumbler "found no incidents of wrongdoing." [DN 22-6 at 14 (Lovett Deposition).]

         After Officer Chumbler's investigation, Flatt and Lovett had a meeting with T.C., Heather Lane, and another parent named Amber Harris on May 5, 2016. [Id. at 16, 26.] At that meeting, the parents provided Lovett with a bulleted list of concerns, including "abuse and neglect" the "[d]aily log not even being looked at by teacher, " and "[t]imeout for up to four hours." [Id. at 18-20.] Lovett testified that the parents told him Teckenbrock frequently discussed T.C.'s personal life and called her "monster" in front of the students. [Id. at 21.] At the conclusion of the meeting, Lovett informed the parents that the school would further investigate the situation. [Id. at 22.]

         Lovett assigned Flatt and Abby Griffy, Marshall County's Elementary Supervisor, to conduct a second investigation. [DN 22-6 at 22.] Lovett advised them to investigate each of the items on the bulleted list that was provided to him during his meeting with T.C., Lane, and asked Harris to write a report summarizing their findings. [Id. at 22-24.] Flatt and Griffy interviewed Teckenbrock and the instructional aides, Cash, Lindsay Hall, and Jennifer Parker. [DN 22-7 at 31.] According to Flatt, Teckenbrock denied that she had engaged in any abuse or neglect. [Id. at 34.] Flatt also testified that Cash was again "kind of wishy-washy" regarding what she had seen. [Id] "She was kind of noncommittal, " and referred back to what she'd said in her interview with Officer Chumbler. [Id. at 34-35.] Flatt "got the feeling that she just. . . wasn't sure if what she was saying was mistreatment of students or not." [Id. at 36.] Flatt also testified that Cash told them she had not contacted any parents. [Id] Cash did, however, mention that "sometimes she didn't think there was enough going on in the room, and there was maybe sitting - the[] [kids] were just sitting there." [Id. at 39." The report reflects that Cash stated "[n]othing is being done to help these kids." [Id. at 40.] The parties agree that neither Officer Chumbler nor Flatt and Griffy interviewed K.C.'s parents or any special needs students during their investigations.

         Lovett testified that he received the report from Flatt and Griffy on the 12th or 13th of May, but did not report back to T.C., Lane, and Harris because he received a call shortly after notifying him that the Department of Child Based Services ("DCBS") would be conducting its own investigation into a complaint filed with them. [DN 22-6 at 29.] The day he learned that DCBS would be conducting an investigation, Lovett removed Teckenbrock from the classroom setting. [Id. at 36.]

         As far as Lovett recalled, DCBS interviewed him, Interim Principal Gold, the instructional assistants (Cash, Parker, and Hall), Teckenbrock, and Flatt. [Id. at 32.] According to Lovett, DCBS did not inform him of its findings until late July, 2016. [Id. at 33.] DCBS reportedly did not substantiate abuse in Teckenbrock's classroom, but it did substantiate neglect. [Id] Lovett asked to see the evidence DCBS uncovered in its investigation, but DCBS informed him that it could not share that information. [Id. at 34.]

         Though Teckenbrock's May 13, 2016 removal from the classroom setting was initially intended to be temporary "until all of this was settled, " Teckenbrock remains removed from the classroom today. [Id. at 36.] Now, she works in the technology department in the office of the Marshall County Board of Education [Id. at 42.] Teckenbrock does not currently work with children. [Id] No one from the school informed T.C., Lane, or Harris "of the remedial measure of putting her in the tech department, " however. [Id]

         In August 2016, K.C., by and through his parents, T.C. and K.C., (collectively, "Plaintiffs") brought the instant lawsuit. [DN 1.] Herein, Plaintiffs make claims for violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("§ 504"). [Id. at 7.] The parties engaged in discovery, and the Marshall County Board of Education (the "Board" or "Defendant") filed the instant motion for summary judgment on all of ...

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