A.V. v. Plano Indep. Sch. Dist., Civil Action No. 4:21-CV-00508

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
Citation585 F.Supp.3d 881
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 4:21-CV-00508
Parties A.V. and Aaron Vann, Plaintiffs, v. PLANO INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.
Decision Date14 February 2022

585 F.Supp.3d 881

A.V. and Aaron Vann, Plaintiffs,

Civil Action No. 4:21-CV-00508

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division.

Signed February 14, 2022

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Justin Parker Nichols, The Nichols Law Firm PLLC, San Antonio, TX, for Plaintiffs.

Charles Joseph Crawford, Abernathy Roeder Boyd & Hullett, PC, McKinney, TX, for Defendant.



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On July 2, 2021, Plaintiffs A.V. and Aaron Vann filed their original Complaint against Defendant Plano Independent School District (Dkt. #1). Plaintiffs assert that Plano Independent School District violated A.V.’s and Aaron Vann's due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by disciplining A.V. for allegedly violating an anti-cyberbullying policy.

On October 21, 2021, the Court held a bench trial in the above-styled matter. After considering the parties’ arguments and the evidence, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a).1 To the extent that any of the findings of fact constitute conclusions of law, or any of the conclusions of law constitute findings of fact, they are adopted as such.


At the time the underlying incident occurred, A.V. was a 14-year-old, 8th grade student attending Haggard Middle School. Haggard Middle School (the "School") is a Texas public school in Plano, Collin County, Texas, zoned as part of Plano Independent School District (the "District"). For all schools within its boundaries, the District

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is responsible for promulgating and enforcing student disciplinary rules in accordance with the Texas Education Code. TEX. EDUC. CODE § 37.001. But, as indicated by the following facts of this case, there are times when a school district's attempt to enforce its disciplinary authority goes too far and violates the rights of the very students it is charged with protecting.

I. The Bullying Incident

On Friday, February 12, 2021, A.V. invited a fellow classmate, S.H., to a sleepover at A.V.’s home in celebration of A.V.’s birthday. A.V. lived with his father, Aaron Vann. The sleepover began after Friday's school day had ended, was held off-campus, and was wholly unrelated to any school activity.

The next day, on Saturday, February 13, 2021, several other classmates joined A.V. and S.H. for a second day of the sleepover.2 The boys spent the day playing video games and shooting BB guns at one another.3 Then, at some point in the evening, S.H. fell asleep. Around midnight, A.V., either joined by or observed by the other boys, urinated in a cup, slapped a groggy S.H. awake, and caused S.H. to drink from the cup (the "incident").4 One of the classmates, M.Y., recorded the incident on his cellphone.

The video shows the acts as described above. What the video does not show is of equal importance. The video does not show any evidence that A.V. was aware his acts were being recorded. Other than appearing as the subject of the video, A.V. never looked at the camera, waved or acknowledged the camera, or made any statement indicating that he knew his acts were being recorded. Additionally, the video does not show A.V. using a cellphone or any other kind of electronic device to bully S.H.

II. The Disagreement between M.Y. and S.H.5

Approximately two weeks after the sleepover, S.H. got into an argument with M.Y. While the two were playing an online game, they exchanged a heated series of insults. M.Y. escalated the argument to a grossly inappropriate level by calling S.H. the "N-word" multiple times, and threatening to beat up S.H. at school. M.Y. then told S.H. about the existence of the video.

After the argument had ended, M.Y. used the social media application Snapchat to distribute the video among the School's student body. For the sake of clarity, A.V. was not present during the argument between M.Y. and S.H., nor involved in M.Y.’s distribution of the video.

After the argument with M.Y. and M.Y.’s distribution of the video, S.H. no longer wanted to go to school. On March 1, 2021, when questioned by his mother, Ms. Smith, S.H. cited the online conflict with

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M.Y. as the reason he was unwilling to attend school; S.H. did not tell his mother about the video or the incident at the sleepover. The next day, Ms. Smith sent S.H. to school, then reported her son's concerns to the School's Assistant Principal, Linda Washington ("Washington"). When Washington pulled S.H. aside to discuss the matter, S.H. reported that he was feeling scared and unsafe. S.H. showed Washington the video of the incident. However, S.H. reported that he "was not all that upset" about the incident that had occurred at A.V.’s sleepover, but "was more concerned and angry" about the argument with M.Y. and was rightfully "very upset" about M.Y.’s comments.

III. The School's Initial Response

Washington shared S.H.’s concerns with Ms. Smith. Then, after a meeting with the School's resource officer, Ms. Smith submitted a report to the Plano Police Department. The Plano Police Department opened an investigation into the incident and wrote an initial report dated March 3, 2021. Under "Violations" the report lists "Assault-Bodily Injury," and states "No" under "Bias Motivation." As of the date of the trial, the Plano Police Department's investigation was still ongoing.

From March 2–3, 2021, Washington and other school officials conducted interviews with each student who was present at the sleepover.6 At the end of the March 3rd school day, Washington notified A.V. that he was receiving three days of out-of-school suspension as discipline for cyberbullying.7 In addition, A.V. received a "Stay-Away Agreement," ordering that A.V. make no contact with S.H. during the school day or during any school-sponsored event. The Stay-Away Agreement was effective through May 27, 2021, and noted that no other disciplinary actions were issued at that time.

IV. The Community's Response

Ms. Smith was dissatisfied with the School's discipline of the students involved in the incident. So, on March 4, 2021, Ms. Smith shared the video of the incident on social media. When Ms. Smith described the events, she blamed the School and the District for ignoring A.V.’s and the other classmates’ use of racial slurs, and maintained that S.H. had been bullied because of his race. Ms. Smith's posts went viral, spreading quickly and widely over the Internet within a matter of hours.

Like a digital wildfire, Ms. Smith's posts about the incident and the video on social media caused an uproar in the community. The community was outraged about what had happened to S.H., and upset about the District's discipline of the students involved. In no time, the community rallied and organized a protest at the School for that afternoon. According to the School's Principal, Shauna Koehne, in her seventeen years of experience dealing with bullying incidents at the School, this was the first time that an incident between students had caused a public protest.

As Ms. Smith's posts continued to spread, the School was flooded with phone calls and e-mails from the general public. The administration, including those directly involved with investigating the incident and issuing discipline, received threatening messages and had their personal phone numbers, e-mails, and addresses shared on

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the Internet. Thousands of social media posts and messages were sent to administration and students, which some administrators described as mean, disrespectful, hateful, and accusatory. Specifically, many commenters accused the District and those in charge of its disciplinary decisions of being racist.

Parents began to pick up their children early due to safety concerns. Aaron Vann's home became the site of daily harassment and protests. Washington received threats of bodily harm and death, including threats to shoot her and her son. She reported being flooded with thousands of e-mails daily from people all over the world, beginning on March 4, 2021 and continuing for months. The District's Superintendent, Sara Bonser ("Bonser"), also received messages threatening her physical safety, including death threats and intimidation. To put it lightly, the community's response was out of control.

V. The School's Reaction

At the start of its investigation, the School initially considered that it lacked authority to further discipline the students for the incident because the incident occurred off-campus and was unrelated to any school activity. However, as the investigation and protests continued, and the pressure from the community swelled, the School changed course.

On March 5, 2021, the community again organized a protest to occur at the School. After the event, the School took action and e-mailed a bullying investigation notice letter to A.V. and his parents. Then, on March 9, 2021, Bonser participated in a news conference with the Plano Mayor and Chief of Police. In the news segment, Bonser stated: "bullying, harassment, threats, and acts of racism against Plano ISD students are abhorrent and will not be tolerated. There is nothing okay about harassment. There is nothing okay about bullying. And there is nothing okay about any act of racism ... whether it happens on campus or off-campus." Bonser then referenced the video of the incident, assuring that it would be addressed "appropriately and swiftly." Never before had a superintendent of the District given a press conference about a student-on-student bullying situation.

On March 15, 2021, school administrators held a Campus Management Meeting with A.V. and his parents. The School alleged that A.V. had violated the District's Student Code of Conduct by engaging in acts of cyberbullying against S.H. The anti-cyberbullying policy in the District's Student Code of Conduct is written pursuant to its...

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2 cases
  • Gordon Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Hinkson
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • March 2, 2023
    ...a district or county court . . . shall hear and determine applications for writs of injunction."); cf. A.V. v. Plano Indep. Sch. Dist., 585 F.Supp.3d 881, 891, 898 (E.D. Tex. 2022) (analyzing school policy and authority under David's Law after jurisdiction established by the "presence of a ......
  • Gordon Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Hinkson
    • United States
    • Texas Court of Appeals
    • March 2, 2023
    ... ... shall hear and determine applications for writs of ... injunction."); cf. A.V. v. Plano Indep. Sch ... Dist. , 585 F.Supp.3d 881, 891, 898 (E.D. Tex. 2022) ... (analyzing school ... policy and authority under David's ... ...

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