While athletics are an integral and valuable aspect of most school communities—fostering school spirit and building life skills such as sportsmanship, teamwork, self-discipline, and work ethic—they can also be fertile ground for school liability. Locker rooms, weight rooms and other venues are frequent sites for student (and even coaching/faculty) misconduct. This is especially true during the summer months, when students are allowed access to athletic facilities and equipment while faculty/coaching supervision may be skeletal.
While schools are not vicariously liable for the acts of students and have no vicarious liability for the acts of coaches/faculty whose actions are outside the scope of their employment, liability can be imposed for negligence in monitoring/supervision, policies and procedures, retention of a student/employee, etc. Schools can minimize the risk of legal exposure by implementing and enforcing protocols for supervision, monitoring and reporting. Some helpful tips to follow in this regard include:
- Placement of strict time limits on student access to locker rooms, weight rooms and other venues where there is not a constant faculty/coaching presence.
- Use of video cameras (excluding areas where individuals would have an expectation of privacy, such as restrooms, showers, and areas designated for changing clothes). Notices of video camera use should be posted in a conspicuous places (which will also serve as a deterrent).
- Use of audio monitors (which can alert a coach/faculty member of an incident in real time).
- To the extent that constant faculty/coaching presence cannot be maintained, frequent, random, unannounced visits/inspections should be made.
- Investigate suspected misconduct or seemingly problematic relationships.
- Heighten monitoring/supervision when unsubstantiated complaints/reports are made involving possible misconduct.
- In cases of serious misconduct/threats, termination of the employment of a coach/faculty member or enrollment of a student who has been determined to present a risk to the safety of others.
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.