School District Law
In early 2020, students across the United States went home from school without a plan to return. Many of them still haven’t gone back into their school buildings and started this school year on computers from home, meeting their teachers and classmates over webcams.
In-person learning is just one of the many things lost in the COVID-19 pandemic. But while some districts and schools were able to resume in-person attendance last fall, and others have done it in stages since, others are still reticent. In Los Angeles, some parents are tired of waiting, and are suing the school district and teacher’s union over the closure, claiming that the district and union’s actions have injured their children.
In a case brought by conservative think-tank Freedom Foundation, a group of Los Angeles parents are alleging that the continued in-person school closures have injured their children, and are “holding the current well-being and future prospects of LAUSD students’ hostage,” according to a report from Fox 11 LA. The union and the school district have not commented on the case.
Personal injuries in school
The LA case is a unique one, as the alleged injuries are psychological and the case is tied up in the politics of the labor union and the COVID-19 closures. However, there are clearer-cut cases of injuries in schools as well.
One of a schools’ most basic jobs is to keep children safe while they learn. While childhood naturally comes with bumps and bruises, children can also be injured in more drastic ways: falling, poisoning, burning, being hurt by other children, or being hurt by staff. While some injuries truly are accidents that could not have been foreseen or prevented, the law provides an avenue for recovery if teachers or other school staff could have intervened to prevent serious injuries.
School districts, being a division of the government, are usually immune from lawsuits through a principle called “sovereign immunity.” However, there are exceptions to that, such as in the case of gross negligence. Exceptions may also vary depending on who was responsible for the child when the injury occurred. Did it happen on a field trip? Was it on the playground, where someone other than the teacher was in charge? While the individuals involved may change, generally, the district may still be held accountable.
Making a claim against a school district can be complicated. Different rules require filing of certain documents to put a school on notice of a claim, and various deadlines apply to shorten the period of time in which a claim can be brought. Each state’s procedures are different as well.
How to pursue a claim against a school
The circumstances of the injury are important in cases against school districts, in part because of the threshold of what must be proven. Typically, negligence, intentional injury, or abuse must have caused the injury for a case to proceed. If the injury happened under circumstances indicating that the school had in fact taken reasonable safety measures, the case may be dismissed.
Injuries are not solely physical, either. While students go to school for emotional development and to make friends, they may encounter bullies, negative social interactions, or abusive relationships there. If the emotional injury is serious enough and the school is judged to have been negligent in its duty to prevent it, then the district may be liable. Such claims should be closely analyzed when the offender is a district employee, such as a coach or teacher.
Negligence can be proven through circumstances such as insufficient supervision, or through systemic issues, such as faulty playground equipment or dilapidated buildings. School districts may be held responsible for situations arising from premises liability, for example.
It’s important to document what has happened to your student, including all medical bills, what he or she says about the circumstances leading up to the incident, and any other documents he or she may provide about the circumstances. A personal injury lawyer can help you determine what your next step may be in seeking legal help to make things right for you and your child again.