Ever since California’s inaugural constitution mandated a “system of common schools” in 1849, public education in the Golden State has been one of the strengths of our economy and democracy. The critical responsibility of teaching students in the public education system creates what the law calls a “special relationship” between districts and their students. Therefore, educators “are said to stand in loco parentis, in the place of parents, to their students, with similar powers and responsibilities.” (Hoff v. Vacaville Unified School Dist. (1998) 19 Cal.4th 925, 935–936.) Injury or other harms that occur under this relation can expose a school or school district to legal liability.
School districts must protect the health, welfare, and safety of their students. California’s Constitution recognizes this imperative by proclaiming all California public school students “have the inalienable right to attend campuses which are safe, secure and peaceful.” (Art. I, section 28, (f)(1).) Unfortunately, districts sometimes fail in this, their most important duty. A review of three recent school district cases reveal just how wide ranging the alleged behavior of school districts can be and how utterly horrifying our children, their families, friends, and communities can be damaged. In each of these cases, a school injury lawyer was retained.
The first case involves a parent’s constitutional right to direct the education and upbringing of their children. (Meyer v. Nebraska (1923) 262 U.S. 390.) Allegedly, middle school staff at a Northern California school district “secretly convinced” an 11-year-old middle school student to identify herself as bisexual then transgender and told her not to tell her mother. The lawsuit also alleged the school had a policy not to disclose to parents specific information about a student’s gender identity and expression. The case settled for $100,000.
Another case resulted in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) agreeing to a $7.9 million settlement with a woman who alleged in a lawsuit a teacher sexually assaulted and abused her at the teacher’s home when she was as a high school student. As this case reminds us, it is important to remember that even if your child is harmed off campus, and depending on the circumstances, the district can still be held liable for your child’s harm.
Lastly, in an all too familiar case of alleged bulling, Moreno Valley Unified paid $27 million to a family to settle a wrongful death lawsuit alleging a 13-year-old student died from a beating by two classmates. The lawsuit alleged that the young student had been bullied before and had complained to school authorities. Often times school officials are warned about bullying but do not do enough to stop the bullying. If your child is bullied, and after making the decision to report the bullying, make you have written documentation of your complaints and consider the school enacting a safety plan for your child.
Walton Law Firm represented our first child in San Diego Superior Court in 1996 and fully appreciates the special responsibility and vital importance of obtaining justice for minors. If your child has been damaged by the actions or neglect of a school official, we are always here for you and our consultations are always free.