DENVER – The Douglas County School District has agreed to revise its policies to make its schools safer for students with disabilities following a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Colorado. This comes as part of a settlement agreement reached in the suit against the district, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and several school resource officers (SROs).
Pursuant to the settlement, the defendants have agreed to require advanced training for any SROs assigned to the Douglas County School District, to include training created by the disability rights community that will improve interactions between law enforcement and students with disabilities. The defendants will also ensure that all SROs review the Behavioral Improvement Plans (BIP) specific to each student and comply with those plans when interacting with the student. Important reporting requirements will also ensure that the SROs are complying with de-escalation techniques consistent with students’ BIPs.
“Student conflict should never be handled like a criminal matter,” said Deborah Richardson, ACLU of Colorado Executive Director. “With these revised policies, we can ensure that all students, especially those who need specific accommodations, feel safe at school.”
The ACLU of Colorado filed the lawsuit in March 2021 on behalf of an 11-year-old Hispanic child with autism who was aggressively handcuffed and left in a patrol car for hours, causing him to become so dysregulated that he banged his head repeatedly and sustained injuries. Without seeking medical attention, officers drove the child to a juvenile detention center and placed him in custody until his parents were able to post a $25,000 bond. This child suffered from severe anxiety and PTSD following the incident.
The ACLU of Colorado sued the district and SROs involved in the incident for violating the student’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fourth Amendment.
“Student safety is extremely important,” said Tim Macdonald, Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado. “Students deserve to feel safe in a community where they are supposed to be learning. We hope that with these revised policies, children will be protected and get the individual support that they deserve.”
Douglas County had a disturbing record of disproportionately putting children with disabilities and children of color into restraints and seclusion. In this case, the SROs demonstrated a lack of training when they approached this student in a threatening manner that escalated the situation. We are hopeful that these new polices will ensure that students' rights are protected.
The ACLU legal team included Legal Director Timothy R. Macdonald, Legal Director Emeritus Mark Silverstein and Senior Staff Attorney Sara Neel, and cooperating attorneys Jack Robinson of Spies, Powers & Robinson, P.C., Arielle K. Herzberg of WilmerHale, and Hugh Q. Gottschalk, Jennifer Parker, Alex Bransford, Kristen Ferries, and Meghan W. Darby of Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP.