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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Prestonwood Christian Academy, a ministry of Prestonwood Christian Church in Plano, is a nonprofit private school. Emma Morrone was a kindergartner in Robyn Gale Pryor’s class at Prestonwood in 2002 and part of 2003. Pryor held a master’s degree in early childhood and family services. Brenda Kaye Caldwell, who held a bachelor’s degree in interior design and a minor in marketing, was Pryor’s aide from Oct. 2, 2002, until sometime in March 2003. Emma’s mother Victoria testified that beginning in October 2002, Emma showed signs of being unhappy. In December, Emma began to have nightmares. She also began to wet the bed as well as her pants, to exhibit anxiety and coping difficulties, and to suffer from other emotional problems. The Morrones removed Emma from Prestonwood in March 2003 after Caldwell related information concerning Emma’s classroom environment. Not long after she began to work as Pryor’s aide, Caldwell began to notice what she thought was disturbing and inappropriate behavior by Pryor. For example, one student in Pryor’s class had a loud voice. When the student would speak in a loud voice, Pryor would tell her to go sit down, and the girl would cry. This girl cried more than the rest of the children. Another student had trouble staying on task and staying focused. Pryor grabbed his math paper from him and made him sit in front of the math chart. The boy cried. Pryor exhibited similar conduct toward another student. He cried and shook uncontrollably for 10 to 15 minutes. In her deposition, Caldwell maintained that, while this sort of behavior would not occur daily, it did occur on a weekly basis. Pryor would make the students feel badly about answering questions. She would say things to them such as, “Well, that’s not correct. You didn’t answer that correctly. You should know that. You should know the answer to that question.” Caldwell felt that Pryor’s behavior was disrespectful and condescending. In March, Pryor implemented a “heart tool.” Pryor asked Caldwell to make a large heart and put it on the bulletin board. The purpose of the heart tool was to promote loving attitudes. Pryor asked Caldwell to put a verse about love on the heart. Caldwell chose “love one another.” She also made smaller hearts with each child’s name on it. These smaller individual hearts were pinned to the larger heart. If a child was seen not loving another child, that child had to remove his or her heart from the bigger heart. Caldwell testified that one child had to remove her individual heart from the board. The student “was crushed.” Later in the day, during prayer time, another child read her prayer list, and as a part of her prayer list, she said to pray for the student because “she has a selfish heart.” Regarding Emma, the first three months she struggled with phonics and with math. Caldwell observed that Emma was struggling. Emma would get up out of her chair and go to Pryor for help. Instead of helping Emma, Pryor, “in a very abrupt and loud tone of voice,” Caldwell said, “would tell Emma to go sit back down, [because] she did not need help.” Emma cried in class. Caldwell referred many times to what she perceived to be Pryor’s abrupt tone of voice as well as her disturbing, inappropriate and abusive behavior toward Emma and other students in Emma’s presence. But Caldwell did not consider Pryor’s behavior to be child abuse, nor did she believe that Pryor intentionally caused emotional harm to the children. In her deposition, Caldwell said that Pryor had the ability to make learning fun. Pryor was creative and gave the students an opportunity to have hands-on experience when they would do science activities. She could also sing, and the children liked to sing with her. Pryor would sing songs that helped the students with math concepts. Caldwell did not report any of the alleged disturbing and inappropriate behavior until March 15, 2003, when she told the Morrones. The principal of the Prestonwood Lower School during 2002 and 2003 was Donna Gilson. In an affidavit, Gilson said that she had never received any complaints about Pryor before Caldwell complained in March 2003. Joe Morrone and his wife Victoria for themselves and as next friends of Emma, their daughter, sued Prestonwood and Pryor. They sought damages allegedly resulting from Pryor’s verbal and emotional abuse directed at Emma and at other students in Emma’s presence. Prestonwood and Pryor filed a counterclaim for defamation- against the Morrones. All parties filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court ordered that the Morrones take nothing in their suit against Prestonwood and Pryor. The court also entered a take-nothing judgment against Prestonwood and Pryor on their counterclaim. The Morrones, Prestonwood and Pryor appealed the remainder of the trial court’s judgment. HOLDING:Affirmed. Pryor claimed that she is entitled to immunity from suit as provided for in the Paul D. Coverdell Teacher Protection Act of 2001, 20 U.S.C. ��6731-6738. The 11th Court of Appeals court agreed that she is entitled to immunity, holding the Coverdell Act covered Pryor unless an exception applied. Under one exception to the law, the court explained, teachers lack immunity for willful misconduct or “criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed by the teacher.” But the court found no such conduct. The only summary judgment evidence pertinent to this exception, the court noted, came from Caldwell, who testified that she did not believe that Pryor intended to cause emotional harm to the children. Thus, the court held that Pryor proved her immunity under the law. The Morrones also claimed that Prestonwood negligently supervised Pryor, failed to investigate prior complaints, failed to discover and prevent emotional abuse by Pryor, and failed to protect Emma. Examining this claim, the court looked at whether proximate cause existed. The basis of liability in a negligent-hiring case, the court stated, is the employer’s own negligence in either hiring or retaining one whom the employer either knew or should have known was unfit or was not competent for the job, and that the employer’s negligent hiring or retention resulted in an unreasonable risk of harm to others. Applying this rule, the court found that if Prestonwood in some way breached a duty to the Morrones by failing to check on Pryor either before or during her period of employment, the summary judgment evidence showed that as a matter of law any such breach did not proximately cause the damages alleged by the Morrones. Any breach by Prestonwood, the court held, would not have been the proximate cause of Emma’s injuries, because there was no act or omission that was the cause in fact of the alleged injuries and because the injuries were not foreseeable. OPINION:Wright, C.J.; Wright, C.J., and McCall and Strange, J.J.

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