In this case, Plaintiff Jaketra Bryant is representing her minor son, C.B., who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (autism) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They are asserting claims of unlawful racial and disability-based discrimination against Calvary Christian School of Columbus, Georgia. The school is a private elementary school affiliated with Calvary Baptist Church, receiving state and federal funding. C.B. was enrolled in the Discovery School Program, a small instruction-based program for students with learning difficulties which had a 5:1 student-teacher ratio. To qualify, students needed an Individual Education Plan (IEP), a 504 Plan, or a psychological evaluation. C.B.’s evaluation diagnosed autism and ADHD, recommending specific accommodations.
At first, C.B. performed well academically. However, during his seventh year, he exhibited certain behavioral issues, including temper outbursts, class disruption, throwing objects and misusing his laptop. The school recommended Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy and medication evaluation, which the Plaintiff did not pursue initially. C.B. and another student reported racial comments, but no action was taken.
After more such incidents, C.B. was suspended, and the school decided to shift him to virtual instruction due to his behavioral challenges. The school required completion of ABA therapy in a classroom setting for him to return to in-person classes. A therapy plan was devised by Kya Grier Williams involving in-person instruction and shadowing. The therapy plan included fifteen hours of in-person instruction at Calvary where an assistant would shadow C.B. during class to support implementation of the plan. Alternatively, Williams offered to train Calvary staff on ABA behavioral therapy techniques for free to help ensure that the therapy plan was implemented correctly.
Shortly after being briefed on the therapy plan, Headmaster Koan was reluctant to go through with the execution of the plan because it required C.B.’s return to campus in person without proof of his satisfactory progress. Since the headmaster was hesitant to implement it, it led to an impasse. The school eventually considered C.B. withdrawn as a student.
Overall, the case involves allegations of discrimination, inadequate support for C.B.’s special needs, racial comments, and disputes over the implementation of therapy and accommodations.
Behavioral Therapy Expert Witness
Calvary School moved for summary judgment on all of Bryant’s claims under the 42 U.S.C. § 1981; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq.; and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794.
Calvary also moved to exclude the expert testimony of Bryant’s expert Kya Grier Williams M.S., BCBA, LBA on individualized behavioral interventions alleging that her recommendations were wrong.
Williams is a licensed behavioral therapist, dedicated to and specializing in the treatment of behavioral issues in children and adolescent diagnosed with Autism and related Developmental Disorder, and Addiction and Compulsion in teens and adults.
Discussion by the Court
The Court held that based on the facts of the case, though C.B did have a disability within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act, Bryant does not seriously dispute that C.B. violated Calvary’s behavioral standards by throwing objects in class and misusing his laptop or contend that Calvary’s progressive disciplinary responses to each incident were atypical punishments when Bryant asserts that Calvary denied C.B. the following accommodations: enforcement of the positive reinforcement behavior plan in Ms. Cameron’s class, transferring C.B. to a teacher other than Ms. Cameron, and allowing C.B. to return to in-person classes at Calvary in the spring 2021 semester under the conditions of C.B.’s ABA behavioral therapy plan.
The Court noted that Calvary incorporated sufficient adjustments such as:
- Implementing all of C.B.’s psychologist’s recommendations, including his recommendation that C.B. be put on a behavior plan that incorporated positive rewards,
- Adjusting the conditions of his dismissal to enable C.B. to return in person by fall 2021 without having to enroll in another school,
- Allowing C.B. to continue attending Calvary through its virtual learning program for the rest of fall 2020 and
- Even granted Bryant’s request to allow C.B. to continue learning virtually in spring 2021 in an effort to accommodate C.B.
Based on the above, the Court granted Calvary’s summary judgment motion on Bryant’s Rehabilitation Act claims.
The Court also held that to establish a prima facie case of discrimination, Bryant must show that:
- C.B. is a member of a protected class
- He suffered an adverse action
- He was qualified to attend Calvary under Section 1981 of the U.S. Code and
- Calvary “treated ‘similarly situated’ [students] outside his class more favorably.”
The parties do not dispute that C.B., a black male, is a member of a protected class, that he was qualified under Section 1981 of the U.S. Code or that he suffered an adverse action when Calvary dismissed him. The Court noted that to establish discrimination, Bryant must show that Calvary treated similarly situated individuals more favorably. A “similarly situated” comparator is typically someone who engaged in the same misconduct and had a similar disciplinary history as C.B.
Bryant contended that the increasingly racially hostile environment at Calvary exacerbated C.B.’s disability manifestations, which led to his outbursts in class.The Court noted that this argument did not show that Calvary’s asserted reasons for dismissing C.B. were excessive or unjustified based on Calvary’s progressive discipline of C.B. after each behavioral incident (first checkmark, then suspension, then removal from in-person classes).
The Court also granted summary judgment on Bryant’s section 1981 claim.
Bryant further contends the following conduct is actionable racial harassment:
- Student comments in a virtual meeting about “God hating blacks and gays;”
- Director Jones’s comment to Bryant that C.B. needs to be careful or he “would end up with his hands behind his back;”
- Calvary’s repeated encouragement that Bryant have C.B. evaluated for medication; and
- Calvary forcing another black male student to withdraw from the school.
The Court found that this conduct did not rise to the level of actionable racial harassment. Although the comments made by the students were offensive and unacceptable and the Court understood how Director Jones’s comments could have been interpreted as insensitive, the Court found that these isolated comments were not sufficiently pervasive such that they effectively denied C.B. equal access to education.
Calvary School’s repeated insistence on evaluating C.B. could not be construed as objectively offensive or race-related conduct considering Calvary School wanted to effectively manage C.B.’s repeated classroom disruptions and also because Dr. Kevin Weis, C.B.’s treating doctor, had also recommended a physician’s evaluation for potential evaluation.
Moreover, when Bryant contended that Calvary forced another black male Discovery School student to withdraw from Calvary around the same time C.B. withdrew, she failed to back-up her claim with adequate evidence. Also, Bryant did not dispute that Calvary also expelled at least four white students and barred two others from in-person classes during C.B.’s time at the school.
The Court concluded that Calvary School was entitled to summary judgment on Bryant’s Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 claims.
Calvary School challenged the testimony of Plaintiff’s expert Kya Grier Williams arguing that Ms. Williams lacked adequate behavioral data to base her initial hypothesis on and to add to that she never tested her initial hypothesis. Moreover, Williams recommended that C.B. receive twenty hours of intensive, one-on-one behavioral services every week, for a six-month period. Essentially, she wanted CB to have a one-on-one shadow for half the school day in case he acted out again without taking into account the possibility that more intensive interventions can even have negative consequences as far as behavioral services or accommodations are concerned.
The Court granted Calvary’s summary judgment motion on Bryant’s claims under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, under Section 1981 of the U.S. Code and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as a consequence of which it terminated Calvary’s motion to exclude Bryant’s expert Kya Grier Williams as moot. The Court entered the judgment in Defendant Calvary School’s favor stating that Plaintiff shall recover nothing of Defendant and Defendant shall also recover costs of this action.
In this case, the Court ruled in the Defendant’s favor and held that even though comments made by the students were offensive and the school’s conduct can possibly come across as insensitive in more than one instance, it does not constitute actionable harassment considering the school had made necessary adjustments in accordance with the psychological evaluation to accommodate C.B. and henceforth Williams’ testimony on individualized behavioral interventions submitted by the Plaintiff to substantiate its claims against the Defendant was no longer relevant for the Court to decide the issues involved in this case based on which the Court declared the Defendant’s motion to exclude Williams’ testimony moot.