Schools have a responsibility to uphold the education of students by providing a safe environment for learning and teaching and keep children from harm’s way. Unfortunately, schools don’t always live up to these standards. It may be possible to sue your child’s school under the right circumstances, such as when it doesn’t take appropriate measures to protect the student body from physical injury or violence or if there was harassment or discrimination because of race, disability, or gender.
The first step in suing a school is to contact your lawyer. A lawsuit against the school will be an individual or class action suit, so you’ll want to talk with your lawyer about whether you can join with other people who are interested in suing the same institution. If that’s not possible, you’ll need to file a suit on your own.
What Can You Sue Your School For?
In general, public school districts cannot be sued due to the theory of “sovereign immunity,” which establishes that the government (and government agencies such as a school district) are immune from legal claims and lawsuits. However, the majority of states waive school districts’ immunity in some situations, allowing people to pursue lawsuits against them under specific circumstances.
While the exact causes of action that are permitted will vary between school districts, here are a few examples of the types of lawsuits that are commonly allowed.
If your child was expelled or suspended in violation of the school’s policies or the law, you might be able to sue the school. However, before you can file a lawsuit, you must exhaust all of the administrative remedies the school offers to challenge the expulsion or suspension. Generally, this will include some sort of an expulsion review hearing. If the school upholds the expulsion, you can petition a court for judicial review of the decision.
When your child is injured by a dangerous condition on school grounds, you may be able to sue the school under the legal theory of premises liability if a school employee created the condition or the school failed to remove the hazard when it should have. However, schools typically only allow parents to sue for “gross negligence,” which requires that the school’s failure be more than mere carelessness. Instead, the school’s actions must have shown a reckless disregard for or extreme indifference to the safety of others.
Negligent supervision occurs when a student is injured because a teacher or another school employee fails to properly supervise them. As with premises liability cases, you can usually only sue a school when the employee was grossly negligent in their failure to provide adequate supervision.
Failure to Provide FAPE
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for every child with a disability. The IDEA states that each child with a disability is entitled to receive a FAPE that emphasizes special education and related services that are designed to meet the child’s unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living. If a school fails to provide your child with a FAPE or otherwise violates the IDEA, you may be able to pursue a legal cause of action.
Federal law protects your child from certain types of discrimination while attending a public school. For example, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination based on disability, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex. If your child has been discriminated against in school, you may be able to sue the school for violating these federal laws.
Sexual misconduct and sexual harassment are considered types of discrimination based on sex. This includes sexual assault, molestation, or rape against a student by a teacher or another school employee. In some situations, you may also be able to sue the school for sexual misconduct perpetrated against your child by another student.
What Is an Example of a School Class Action Lawsuit?
The term “class action lawsuit” describes a type of lawsuit where many people with similar complaints join together to sue a particular defendant or group of defendants. In the case of a school class action lawsuit, a small group of students, known as the plaintiffs, pursue legal action against a school on behalf of all students who have been treated similarly. Class actions can be a helpful tool when students may not be able to prove their cases individually but collectively have a strong case.
The most famous school class action lawsuit is the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. In this case, the Supreme Court determined that the “separate but equal” standard used by school systems to justify school segregation was unconstitutional. As a result of this decision, school segregation was forced to end across the United States.
When Should I Contact an Education Attorney?
If your child has suffered some sort of harm at school and you are considering suing, you should contact an education attorney as soon as possible. There may already be an existing class action lawsuit that you can join, which will make the process significantly more manageable and less expensive for you. If there is no relevant class action lawsuit for you to join, a knowledgeable education lawyer can review the facts and circumstances of your child’s situation and advise you whether you can sue the school or another responsible party.
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