Law & Courts

Court Declines to Take Case On Electrocution of Student

By Mark Walsh — April 09, 2003 2 min read

The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to hear the appeal of a Georgia couple whose 17-year-old son was electrocuted in a classroom experiment gone awry.

H.L. and Arlene Nix sued the 3,600-student Franklin County, Ga., school district and various district and school employees after the 1997 death of their son, H.L. Jeremiah Nix Jr. They argued that teacher Paul E. Brown’s practice over many years of using live wires in an electromechanical class was a tragedy waiting to happen.

The experiment involved stringing a wire around the classroom and cutting away insulation at several points so students could attach probes from a volt meter to learn how to measure electricity. Mr. Brown controlled the voltage with a transformer, and he sent as much as 700 volts of electricity through the wire for students to measure.

Students sometimes received shocks when touching the wire, either mischievously or when they were adjusting their probes, the parents’ lawsuit maintained.

The younger Mr. Nix was at a classroom table when Mr. Brown found him gasping for breath with a live wire in his hands. Emergency medical technicians were called to the school, but the student died from the electrical shock.

Deliberate Indifference?

In their lawsuit, the Nixes contended that the district and school employees had violated their son’s 14th Amendment right to due process of law by placing him at an unreasonable risk of harm. Both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, ruled that the school employees had immunity from the suit, and the courts granted summary judgment to the district.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit panel ruled unanimously that the district’s actions did not meet various legal tests for holding a district responsible for classroom injuries to a student.

“The conditions in the electromechanical course, while truly unfortunate, do not rise to the level of an affront of constitutional dimension,” the appeals court said in its opinion last year.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court in Nix v. Franklin County School District (Case No. 02-1218), the parents urged the justices to use the case to further define the liability of governments for “state-created dangers.”

“The conduct of the defendants constituted a deliberate indifference to the safety of Jeremiah Nix and other Franklin County High School students,” their brief said.

The school district declined to file a response brief in the high court, and the justices declined review of the case without comment on March 31.

Related Tags:

Events

Student Well-Being Webinar Boosting Teacher and Student Motivation During the Pandemic: What It Takes
Join Alyson Klein and her expert guests for practical tips and discussion on how to keep students and teachers motivated as the pandemic drags on.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Holistic Approach to Social-Emotional Learning
Register to learn about the components and benefits of holistically implemented SEL.
Content provided by Committee for Children
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and well-being during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Interdisciplinary STEAM Specialist
Smyrna, Georgia
St. Benedict's Episcopal School
Interdisciplinary STEAM Specialist
Smyrna, Georgia
St. Benedict's Episcopal School
Arizona School Data Analyst - (AZVA)
Arizona, United States
K12 Inc.
Software Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association

Read Next

Law & Courts Accused Texas School Shooter to Remain at State Hospital
Doctors say the student accused of fatally shooting 10 people at a Texas high school in 2018 remains incompetent to stand trial.
1 min read
Santa Fe High School freshman, Jai Gillard writes messages on each of the 10 crosses representing victims in front the school in Santa Fe, Texas on May 21, 2018.
Santa Fe High School freshman, Jai Gillard writes messages on each of the 10 crosses representing victims in front the school in Santa Fe, Texas on May 21, 2018.
Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle via AP
Law & Courts School District Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Scope of Transgender Student Rights
A Virginia district appeals a ruling in the case involving Gavin Grimm's effort to use a restroom consistent with his gender identity.
3 min read
Transgender student Gavin Grimm challenged a policy of the Gloucester County, Va., school board that barred him from using the men's restroom. The school board has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
Transgender student Gavin Grimm challenged a policy of the Gloucester County, Va., school board that barred him from using the men's restroom. The school board has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
Kristen Zeis/The Daily Press via AP
Law & Courts 3 Years Later, Parkland School Shooting Trial Still in Limbo
It's been more than 1,000 days since a gunman with an AR-15 rifle burst into a Florida high school, killed 17 people, and wounded 17 others.
4 min read
Magaly Newcomb, right, comforts her daughter Haley Newcomb, 14, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at a memorial outside the school in Parkland, Fla on Feb. 18, 2018. It’s been more than 1,000 days since a gunman with an AR-15 rifle burst into the school, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others.
Magaly Newcomb, right, comforts her daughter Haley Newcomb, 14, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at a memorial outside the school in Parkland, Fla on Feb. 18, 2018. It’s been more than 1,000 days since a gunman with an AR-15 rifle burst into the school, killing 17 people and wounding 17 others.
Gerald Herbert/AP
Law & Courts Judge: District Had No Duty to Flag Danger From Student in Parkland Shootings
A Florida judge said the Broward County school district cannot be held liable for failing to predict actions that were beyond its control.
2 min read
Law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 15, 2018 in Parkland, Fla., following a deadly shooting at the school.
Law enforcement officers block off the entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 15, 2018 in Parkland, Fla., following a deadly shooting at the school.
Wilfredo Lee/AP