What Can You Sue a School For?

With two lawyers for parents (and two uncles and an aunt who are also lawyers), my kids are a litigious lot.

Correction, a want to be litigious lot.

They (wrongly) assume anytime they suffer (or think they suffer) an injustice, their mom and dad are ready and willing to sue (or at a minimum, verbally assault) the wrongdoer.

I guess they pay more attention when I am on the phone for work than I realize.

While we will always have their backs, my husband and I are not particularly litigious. In fact, we actively avoid conflict and yelling when we are “off duty.”

Correction. I have been known to yell “for the love of God, where are your shoes” on occasion (each time totally warranted).

We prefer to let our kids fight their own battles, intervening only on those rare occasions when they are truly unable to resolve the conflict themselves. Hopefully our strategy with build confidence and resilience. To draw on an analogy from the kid movies, who would you want to protect you on the Savannah, Alex from Madagascar or (pre wildebeest stampede) Mufasa from The Lion King?

You think your teacher graded your paper unfairly? Okay, sit down and think about why you think your paper should be graded differently and go talk to your teacher. Your teacher totally ignores your 504 plan? Mama’s got that one.

So what if something happened to your child at school. Perhaps injured on the playground or bullied by a teacher? What can you sue a school for?

The answer is, not much, unless you are alleging a constitutional issue.

Public schools (including charter schools) enjoy legal immunity when it comes to students injured at school or at a school activity.

Why? Kids are injured ALL THE TIME. Our court system couldn’t handle the volume of lawsuits that would be generated if parents were allowed to sue schools. Also, public schools are using public funds. Public means it belongs to all of us. If schools were constantly paying out settlements, we wouldn’t be able to fund our schools.

Note that I said public schools. Private schools can be sued in civil court for just about any reasonable matter.

So you can never sue a public school? Not quite. There are a few limited exceptions.

For example, in Texas, you can sue a school if your lawsuit involves a bus accident. Also, the legal immunity does not apply to gross negligence.

What’s the difference between regular negligence and gross negligence? Regular negligence would be making the kids run extra laps to the point of exhaustion in the gym for goofing off during P.E. class, gross negligence would be making the kids run those extra laps outside when it’s a 105 degrees.

The other exception for suing a public school is if your child’s constitutional rights have been violated.

  • If a teacher or other school employee has sexually harassed or abused your child, you might be able to sue the school district based on a violation of Title IX.
  • When teachers bully students because of their sex, disability, race, or national origin,  parents might be able to sue the school under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1871.
  • If a teacher’s harassment is based on the student’s disability, parents may also sue schools for violating Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibit public schools from discriminating against students because of their disabilities.

These types of constitutional lawsuits have very strict requirements. You will have to consult with an attorney specializing in these types of suits to see if your situation qualifies.

Have you ever considered suing your child’s school? Leave a comment or send an e-mail.

Copyright © 2018 by Siobhán Fitzpatrick Kratovil. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Leave a Reply