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Whenever children are involved in events on school premises, there is always the possibility of school district liability for incidents that happen on school grounds or at school-sponsored events. This foreseeability gives rise to a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent a child from being harmed. Public school districts may find themselves liable for injury - not only for those suffered by their own students, but also for those incurred by children who are invited onto school grounds, who attend separate programs on school grounds, and even those who are considered trespassers.
On March 22 the U.S. Supreme Court issued an 8-0 opinion in the case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, ruling in favor of the parents of a student with autism spectrum disorder who had charged that the district did not meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA. The parents argued that their child did not receive a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) that was mandated by Congress.
Schools, including K-12 schools, colleges, and universities, have a responsibility to protect their students from harm. Harm includes the inability to benefit fully from education as a result of being in a hostile school environment. The politically motivated rhetoric and actions seen in schools during and after the presidential campaign can create a hostile school environment for which schools can be held responsible.
Schools, after-school programs, summer camps, sunday schools, daycares and other agencies that supervise children are responsible for student safety of children in their care. Failing to apply the same attention to ensuring that non-licensed individuals, such as volunteers, meet the same standards as teachers and other paid staff can place students - and ultimately a school, district, or other agency - at risk. When the history of a volunteer or chaperone on an overnight school trip includes something that would raise a red flag but the school is unaware of it, school officials are not able to make an informed decision about whether or not that person should be allowed to interact with children.
Protection of the health, safety, and well-being of children who participate in recreational activities at a summer camp, summer school program, or community and private recreation centers should be the standard operating procedure of all those who provide these services. The standard of care owed to children who participate in organized or sponsored recreational activities such as sports, dance, swimming, rock climbing and variety of other activities at a camp or other agency must be consistent with professional standards in the field. Ingraining standardized practices and responsible planning and supervision into the work habits of all employees will help to protect the employees and the agency from activity injury liability and costly litigation.
News of the tragic suicide of Marquise Braham and the resulting lawsuit against Penn State Altoona and Phi Sigma Kappa brought to the surface some very painful memories. Earlier in my career I spent several years as the Executive Director of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, a midsize International fraternity founded at Yale in 1844. Five or six US Presidents have been members(FDR was a member of the Harvard Chapter which was thrown out for not paying dues). Deke, as it is known, was international in that it had a few Canadian chapters.
Some of our most vulnerable children are relegated to a life away from parents, family, and their school to live where other adults take the place of their parents and are responsible for their custody or care - legally defined as in loco parentis. This occurs when children are placed in residential centers for the treatment of mental illness, schools for the deaf and blind, or similar facilities for children who require extensive medical care and management.
Nationwide, 7.6 million students participate in interscholastic athletics, according to U.S. News and World Report. Keeping them safe is critically important to avoid school liability and sports injury lawsuits. And when sports injury occurs, schools may be found responsible if they failed to take reasonable precautions and supervision of students in order to prevent sports injury. Parents send their children to school with the implicit expectation that schools will do whatever is necessary to keep them safe whether in the classroom or on the football field.
As difficult as it might be to accept and understand, abuse of children is occurring at an alarming rate in our nation's schools, daycare centers, camps, and other institutions. Even with state laws that require child abuse reporting and institutional policies that address sexual abuse prevention, identification, and reporting, abuse is not going away. More civil lawsuits are filed with each passing year, and schools and other organizations are not always appropriately responding to this epidemic.
In the wake of recent incidences of gun violence, school safety and security has become an increasingly pressing concern in the United States and Canada. Schools, summer camps, daycare centers, and other agencies charged with the safety of children have a duty to protect them, and their ability to do so depends on solid policies, training, and appropriate response to security threats. Laws, regulations, and internal policies designed to shield children from harm may be developed proactively in response to a risk assessment or reactively in response to an event that caused injury to a child. Both are valid options in today's climate of terroristic threats to school safety and security. Inaction is not. Schools and other child-centered programs must consider and develop appropriate responses to this new dynamic.