The In s and Out s of School Law: What You Need to Know. Dr. Lee Banton, Professor Emeritus

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1 The In s and Out s of School Law: What You Need to Know Dr. Lee Banton, Professor Emeritus

2 The very first act of a teacher is signing a legal document the contract! Read, study and understand the contract before you sign it. School laws consist of the federal, state and local statutes. The local School Board Policy Manual is considered a component of school law. This policy manual will control much of what you do and can t do in the classroom. It can also help or hurt you if you are sued for acts associated with your role as a teacher. The school library and principal will, by law, have copies available for inspection/viewing.

3 The law has two primary components: criminal law and civil law (tort law). Unlike criminal law, which deals with wrongs against society in general, torts deal with harm inflicted by one party on another whether by intentional wrong doing, recklessness, or simple carelessness.

4 Torts provide a way to sue for compensation for wrongful harm to (among others) one s body, property, or reputation. The single most common type of tort litigation in education is negligence because a student was injured in school.

5 Injury and damages: The plaintiff sustained an actual injury, one that can be measured in monetary terms. Actual examples where students were injured and teachers were found to have breached their duty of care: Playground duty snowball fight/death Bus duty student fight/injury/convulsions Late arrival (5 minutes) student tried to dismantle a hand grenade in classroom and blew off hand

6 More actual examples: Unattended classroom (10 minutes) attempted rape of a student Student injured while permitted to wear mittens on a jungle gym Student pushed out of a bathroom window by other students in a school with racial tensions Teacher left a lit candle on her desk and a child was badly burned when her costume caught fire

7 Other tort categories include: Intentional torts: battery, assault, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress Defamation and employee letters of reference: Libel is written defamation and slander is spoken defamation. Defamation occurs when a person makes a false statement about another that causes damage to the person s reputation or standing in the community. The elements of defamation are false facts, harm, publication, clear reference, standard of fault (a.k.a. actual malice) and no privilege.

8 Invasion of privacy, student records (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, a.k.a. FERPA or Buckley Amendment) and the duty to report child abuse. Virginia has such a statute. Negligent hiring and vicarious liability Liability for dangerous buildings and grounds. Educational malpractice (Peter W. v. San Francisco Unified School District, 131 Cal. Rptr. 854 [1976]) Tort violations of Federal Law: Section 1983 gives individuals a basis for seeking redress from schools and teachers for violation of their federal constitutional and statutory rights. Ex: violations by unreasonable searches, procedural due process, equal protection, free speech, etc.

9 An important phrase is doing what is reasonable and prudent. A teacher is expected to follow all policies and required procedures, as well as do what is reasonable and prudent under the given circumstances. Corporal punishment of a student is forbidden by Virginia law. Do not give out/store student medications. Follow the School Board Policy Manual. The Principal s Office and your school library will, by law, have a copy of the School Board Policy Manual.

10 Remember, you can be sued for anything, but following policies and procedures will go a long way to protecting you from losing a lawsuit. You may be able to purchase an Educator s Liability Insurance Policy rider with your renters or homeowners policy. Many school divisions will not insure you from liability if you violate policy, procedures, and statutes. For example, if you give a student a ride home in your car from school and have an accident, it is unlikely the school s insurance policy will cover damages/injuries from the accident because it was not part of your job description.

11 Finally, you are entering a real world experience with potentially disastrous consequences for your mistakes. Pay attention to details, be accurate, and be informed. When in doubt about something, you may want to do nothing and wait to ask the principal for an answer in writing before taking action. Keep in mind, if it isn t in writing, then it doesn t exist!

12 Insubordination The requirements necessary to validate a teacher's dismissal for insubordination has a foundation in and have been summarized by the American Law Reports as follows: (1) Insubordination imports a willful disregard of express or implied directions of the employer and refusal to obey reasonable orders. (2) Insubordination is defined as a disobedience of orders, infraction of rules, or a generally disaffected attitude toward authority; it is generally synonymous with contumaciousness, which indicates persistent, willful or overt defiance of, or contempt for, authority. (3) Insubordination is a constant or continuing intentional refusal to obey a direct or implied order, reasonable in nature, and given by and with proper authority. (78 A.L.R.3d 83 [1977] )

13 Bullying Bullying among children is commonly defined as intentional, repeated, harmful acts, words, or other behavior such as name calling, threatening, and/or shunning committed by one or more children against another. These negative acts are not intentionally provoked by the victims, and for such acts to be defined as bullying, an imbalance in real or perceived power must exist between the bully and the victim. Bullying may be physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual in nature.

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