The prospect of student violence presents two primary risks: (1) a threat to the physical safety of the school community and (2) exposure for civil liability to the school. While parents/guardians, alone, bear vicarious liability for the acts of their children, schools can also be held liable if someone is harmed as a result of negligence on the part of the school. Theories of liability that can be asserted against a school in the context of school violence can take many forms, including:
- Inadequate supervision/monitoring of students.
- Inadequate training of faculty/staff relative to preventing, handling and reporting threats/acts of violence.
- Inadequate policies & procedures to prevent and/or respond to threats/acts of violence.
- Failing to take reasonable proactive and/or reactive measures upon receipt of actual or constructive notice of a threat.
Of course, violence and threats of violence can come in many forms. The general rule of thumb for avoiding civil liability is to “act reasonably.” The specific factual situation will of course dictate what is reasonable “under the circumstances.” For example, a first grade student (who might be exposed to too much violent language on television or in video games) who, during recess, says he will “kill” his classmate while exhibiting no intent or effort to cause harm to the other student might warrant nothing more than having privileges temporarily taken away along with very firm corrective counseling and notification of the parents. On the other hand, a 10th grade student who makes a potentially credible threat of violence/death on another student, faculty member or group, would warrant a much more severe response, including, but not limited to, potentially, the involvement of law enforcement and expulsion.
In all cases, school policy should be strictly followed and all reasonable measures should be taken to ensure the safety of the school community. School resource officers, law enforcement and legal counsel can be valuable assets in navigating this process.
Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.