Most children spend the majority of their day in a public school setting, so there is an important responsibility placed on schools for their role in the children’s lives. With a responsibility that nature, there is also a large possibility of disputes arising over a variety of situations, school actions which if handled poorly can lead to lawsuits and big Pharma class actions filed against the school district.
Bullying and Harassment
In the case of bullying and harassment, is is inaction, or failure to prevent or stop the bullying, for which school districts are most often sued. Each state has different laws regarding what school districts are required to do or not do, there are several things every school should do that will increase the safety and wellbeing of its students, as well as prevent potential lawsuits.
These steps include:
Assessing Bullying in the School
Find out when, where and how often bullying is occurring. This can be done through official surveys, asking general questions and performing subtle observations when students interact. Conduct this survey at least once a year, and ensure that respondents’ information will be kept private at all times.
Engaging the Community
Campaign in the community to increase awareness of what bullying is and how to end it. Parents should be treated as partners in the process of helping students feel safe at school.
Establish a Safe School Environment
Nurture a culture of tolerance and acceptance in all aspects of the school, from teachers’ meetings to the PTA to students’ group projects. Draw up a list of rules for treatment of others in the school that must be followed by everyone at all times. Monitor areas where bullying often occurs, and enlist school staff in keeping an eye on student interactions.
Lawsuits are also filed against schools for discrimination, especially in regards to students in special education programs. Discrimination can occur in many areas- admissions, grading, class placement and personal instruction, among others. Because it covers such a wide span of potential issues, it highlights the importance of school districts treating each student equally, and providing extra help to those who require it.
School districts can also be sued for retaliation, as in the case of Pamella Settlegoode v. Portland Public Schools. Ms. Settlegoode was a physical education teacher who was struck by the inequalities in services for her students with disabilities. After advocating for these students, the school retaliated by firing her and blackballing her from gaining employment at any other area school. After the difficult trial, she was awarded one million dollars.
Interference with Right
Interference with a student’s constitutional rights are also grounds for a lawsuit against a school district. Whether a student’s rights have been violated is determined by what is called the “Tinker test,” after the landmark case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. In this case, the court ruled that the first amendment applied to public schools, and that the school could not restrict students’ free speech unless it was proven to be disruptive to education. The Tinker test is now applied in all instances in which a school district is accused of limiting free speech.
To learn more about school districts and legal proceedings, take a look at the cases mentioned. For school districts to avoid being involved in lawsuits, they must take exacting steps to ensure each student and staff member feels safe, receives the best education possible (if a student), is not targeted in any way by the school, and is not deprived of any constitutional rights.
If you would like to get more information on these topics and more come to the Special Education Laws Made Simple Seminar Monday, May 19th in Orange, CA!