A paraprofessional's job was terminated after more than 20 years of service to a district. The termination was based on allegations that she used excessive force with a male student during three separate incidents over a period of nine days. The incidents were captured on a hallway monitoring camera.

The paraprofessional filed a grievance regarding her termination, arguing that even though she was an at-will employee without a contract, she was protected from termination in this instance due to a state law that says that a professional employee of a school district may not be subject to discipline, termination or nonrenewal for use of force when and to the degree reasonably necessary to further an educational purpose or maintain discipline. The district’s board of trustees denied the grievance and the paraprofessional filed an appeal to the commissioner of education.

The commissioner upheld the termination. In doing so, he noted that, in order to be entitled to protection under the law, the use of force must be “objectively reasonable.” He then examined the incidents and found the following:

  1. The first incident occurred while the paraprofessional was leading students down a hallway. A girl stopped at the water fountain and a boy walked up to her and appeared to tell her to get back in line. The paraprofessional approached the children, took the hand of the girl at the water fountain and hit the boy on the shoulder with the girl’s hand. The paraprofessional stated that she was trying to get the children to shake hands and be friends.
  2. The second incident occurred when the boy stopped to look in the window of a classroom while students were walking down the hall. The paraprofessional grabbed him by the arm and forcefully pulled the child back in line.
  3. The third incident occurred when the boy was running in the hallway with arms spread out like a bird or airplane. The paraprofessional bent down, held the student’s face and moved her face close to the child.

The day after the third incident, the student’s father reported to the school that his son did not want to go to school anymore because the teacher hurt his face.

The commissioner of education reviewed the incidents described above and concluded that the paraprofessional’s interactions with the student were markedly more forceful than interactions with other students. The paraprofessional denied using physical force. The commissioner concluded that the paraprofessional’s use of force was not justified, nor was it reasonable. The paraprofessional was therefore not entitled to immunity and was subject to termination as an at-will employee.