School Liability For Abuse & Neglect Of Students And Student Assaults Including On Special Needs Students
Schools are responsible for the safety of all students while they are on school grounds or participating in school activities and functions. Children on the autism spectrum and others with special needs can find the world on a daily basis to be a confusing, threatening, and chaotic place. Accordingly, a heightened standard of care is required of schools to ensure the safety and protection of special needs students.
For example, schools with special needs students must train their staff on the issues and challenges these students face, and supervise staff to ensure they are interacting with students in an appropriate and professional manner. While not a guarantee of proper behavior, this training is a core component for teachers possessing special education certificates. Yet many teacher aides have no training in the education and care of special needs students.
Can A Lawsuit Be Brought Against A School For Physical Abuse Or Neglect Of A Student By A Teacher Or Aide?
Yes. School administrators must exercise care in protecting all students from harm and properly supervise teachers and staff. Liability may be found against the school district if administrators knew or had reason to know that the teacher or aide assaulted the child and failed to act. Many states, including California, extend liability if administrators knew or had reason to know that the teacher or aide was not trained and lacked the ability to care for special education children.
What To Do If You Suspect Abuse Of Your Student By Teachers Or Aides
Parents and guardians of an abused student should promptly report any signs of abuse to school administrators and/or their local police department. Warning signs of abuse include: (1) unexplained injuries, (2) changes in behavior, (3) regression, (4) fear of school, (5) changes in eating or sleeping, and/or (6) changes in performance or attendance in school.
Parents and guardians may also turn to the civil courts and seek justice by filing a lawsuit against the teacher or teacher’s aide and school. Potential legal claims that may be brought include assault, battery, child abuse, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, training, and negligent failure to recognize and report child abuse.
To demonstrate child abuse, it is not necessary that the adult directly assault the child. Willfully causing a child to suffer grave harm or permitting child under his or her care or custody to be placed in a situation in which the child’s health is endangered can constitute child abuse.
Can A Lawsuit Be Brought Against A School For The Physical Assault Or Sexual Abuse Of A Student By Another Student?
Yes. While the overwhelming majority of educators and administrators are committed to providing a safe learning environment, a shocking amount of sexual abuse of students by other students in schools occurs nationwide. Disabled and special education students are among the most victimized individuals in society.
Teachers and schools under a mandatory duty to report the inappropriate sexual conduct to the police or county welfare department. Failure to comply with this duty can result in fines or jail time. (Cal. Penal Code 11166(c).)
Parents of an abused student may file on their child’s behalf a lawsuit against the individual student who committed the sexual assault. However, these students are often minors incompetent to understand their actions. Thus, they are not usually held personally liable.
Parent may also bring claims against teachers and the school district – the persons and entity responsible for providing a safe and healthy learning environment. Lawsuits in student-on-student sexual assault and abuse cases often rely upon the legal claim of “negligent supervision.”
What Is The Negligent Supervision Of A Student?
The California Supreme Court has held that teachers and other school employees must supervise all students – both regular and special education students – on the school grounds and enforce rules and regulations necessary to their protection. The degree of care that school employees must follow is that which a person of ordinary prudence, charged with comparable duties, would exercise under the same circumstances.
A total lack of supervision or ineffective supervision can constitute a failure of ordinary care on the part of school personnel. In a landmark 1970 case, Daily v. Los Angeles Unified School District, 2 Cal.3d 741, the Court held that a teacher breached his duty to supervise students by taking a lunch break instead of watching the students on the school grounds, which was his responsibility. A fight broke out among the students and one died.
The fact that another student’s misconduct was the immediate cause of the student’s death did not relieve the school district from liability. The Court found it was foreseeable that fighting could occur among unsupervised adolescent students.
Can A Lawsuit Be Brought Against A School For The Assault On A Student By A Third Party?
Yes. In addition to the general duty to supervise students, schools must protect students from foreseeable injuries at the hand of third parties, which can include non-students as well as other students known to pose a danger. Courts impose this higher standard of care due to the special relationship between schools and students that arise out of the state’s compulsory school attendance laws and the comprehensive control schools exercise over students.
In certain circumstances, courts have found school districts liable for sexual assaults on special needs students on school grounds, even when the same type of incident had not occurred previously, due to the vulnerability of special needs students.
Contact Student Abuse Attorneys At The Dolan Law Firm
The Dolan Law Firm represents parents and guardians of children who suffered abuse at their school. We understand the sensitive nature of these cases and work closely with our clients to obtain just compensation and require the school districts to undertake action to prevent other children from being abused in the future.
Our litigation experience includes successfully resolving cases brought against teachers and aides for abusing autistic and special education students and against the school districts that employed these individuals for failing to properly train and supervise them and neglecting to recognize and report the child abuse. This litigation includes a widely-publicized abuse case against the Redwood City Elementary School District in San Mateo County that resulted in a significant settlement for our clients.
We also successfully represented parents and guardians in lawsuits against school district for failing to properly supervise and/or safeguard students in cases involving student-on-student assault and crimes against students by third parties.
Please contact us for a free, no obligation, and confidential review of your case or call us at 415-636-8160.