Appeals court will hear school case involving school check-out policy

Published 12:42 am Monday, January 9, 2012

JACKSON (AP) — The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Jan. 18 in New Orleans in a lawsuit that claims a 9-year-old girl was checked out of a south Mississippi school six times by an unauthorized man who then raped her.

The lawsuit filed in 2008 by the girl’s father and paternal grandmother said a Covington County elementary school failed to verify Tommy Keyes’ identity when he took the girl from campus in 2007 and 2008. The school district denies the accusation.

A federal judge in Mississippi dismissed the lawsuit. A 5th Circuit panel reinstated it last summer.

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The lawsuit said Keyes allegedly signed the check-out sheet on one occasion as the girl’s mother but usually signed her father’s name.

The lawsuit said Keyes “brutally and viciously raped, sodomized and molested” the girl each time he checked her out of school. Keyes brought the girl back to school and checked her in after the alleged attacks, the lawsuit said.

Keyes was convicted of sexual battery in the assaults and has been serving a 10-year prison sentence since 2009, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections website. ‘

In dismissing the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett said the girl had no constitutional guarantee of protection at the school under the circumstances in this case. He said the education officials named as individual defendants in the lawsuit had immunity.

The 5th Circuit panel only reinstated the lawsuit against the school, not the individual school district officials.

The school district contends a failure to check Keyes’ identity did not amount to a constitutional violation

The primary allegation in the lawsuit is that the school’s check-out policy failed to protect the girl from a predator.

Much of the legal maneuvering has involved arguments about whether a constitutional violation occurred and whether a school can be held responsible in such a case.

At the beginning of school, guardians fill out a form in which they list people who have permission to check out a child. The lawsuit said that Keyes was not on the list of people approved to check out the girl and that school officials didn’t ask for identification to compare with the list.