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.