Difficult Custody Issue Shows Responsibility of Administrators

Back in 2000, a woman, Ms. Cheney, left her children with a man she knew in Louisiana, Mr. Peters. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Cheney gave Mr. Peters provisional custody of the children. Mr. Peters cared for the children just as a father would.

In 2004, the children were attending Oakdale Middle School when their mother suddenly showed up to take them out of school and move them to Texas. At this time, Ms. Cheney showed the principal of the middle school her provisional custody mandate. On the mandate, it said that the mandate would be effective until it was revoked in writing or one date from the signing date (August 2, 2001), whichever is shorter. Ms. Cheney also showed the principal the children’s birth certificates, which showed that she was their biological mother.

When the principal began reviewing the children’s records, however, she noticed a note saying that Mr. Peters has custody. Just to make sure that she was doing everything right, the principal called the police and the district attorney to make sure that she properly dealt with the custody issue. Just to be extra cautious, the principal was told to make sure that Ms. Cheney fill out paperwork to expressly revoke the custody mandate. The school counselor helped her make sure that all of the proper paperwork was filled out.

After this had been carried out, the children were brought to the office and then left with Ms. Cheney, her brother, and her father. Some witnesses recount that one of the children screamed and kicked as they got close to the vehicle to leave. Ms. Cheney was soon dropped off at one location, then her brother at another, and the kids continued on with their grandfather. However, they only stayed with him for five weeks before being taken away by child protection services.

Mr. Peters was out of town on the day that the kids were taken out of school. When he found out that Ms. Cheney had come, he rushed back to town, but it was too late. Mr. Peters hired an attorney to start custody proceedings immediately; however, over the next several years, the children were in and out of foster homes and a detention facility. Eventually, the children made it back to Oakdale.

In response to the happenings, Mr. Peters filed suit on both his behalf and the children’s behalf, claiming that they were all damaged because the principal had wrongfully released the children to their mother. The trial court found that the principal had acted appropriately in the given situation.

Appealing the case, Mr. Peters once again argued that the principal did not make an appropriate decision with regard to the children. In analyzing the case, the appellate court looked at whether or not the trial court’s finding was reasonable.

Looking at the relevant law and the policies of the school, the appellate court once again found that the principal had made an appropriate decision with regard to the children. Despite the fact that the mother did not have the children’s best interests at heart, she is still their biological mother. The provisional custody mandate was no longer valid, and she had legal rights to the children. The principal took her time and care in making her decision, and she acted in accordance with school policy. Based on this, the appellate court found that the trial court had not erred in making its decision.

If you have been involved in a similar situation and need legal help to bring justice to the situation, contact the Berniard Law Firm at (504) 521-6000 where a qualified attorney will help walk you through your case.

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