Know Your Rights When it Comes to Filing a Lawsuit against a School in California.

Safe at School 

Kids must go to school. Kids should go to school. Parents have few options when it comes to where their children will go to school. Schools are not like malls or movie theaters: parents really do not have an option to not send their children. Schools, therefore, have a special duty to provide a safe place where parents can trust that their child’s needs will be met and the children do not have to worry. This guide discusses what duties a school has and how parents can best protect their children so the kids can be free to learn, develop and thrive.

Schools hold a special position of trust. When we send our children to school we expect them to be educated. More importantly, we expect them to return home safe and unharmed. Schools are required, by law, to exercise a special degree of care and ensure the safety of their students. Schools must be safe from hazards and teachers and staff must be properly trained. Additionally, there are strict rules about supervision. School districts are required to ensure that teachers and staff act appropriately. A school district can be held liable when a child is abused by a teacher or other staff member or when the school does not take the appropriate steps to keep children safe while they are at school.  

Suing a California School District 

When you sue a school, you are filing a claim against a government entity. There are special rules and procedures for this in California and the statute of limitations is different than in a non-public entity lawsuit. Generally speaking, you must file your claim within six months of the date of the incident when you sue a school district. For this reason, you should seek the help of an attorney immediately if your child has been harmed at school.  

When you hire an attorney to help you navigate the complex claim process against a government entity, they will undertake an extensive analysis of school regulations and school standards. Suing a public school in California can be confusing and difficult. This is why it is important to hire an attorney with experience in this area. Because public schools are government institutions, they enjoy special government immunity and can only be sued for specific violations of the statute. 

Although it may be difficult to sue a public school, it can be done. Case Barnett Law has gone against numerous school districts in Orange County and has won. When your child is injured at school or during a school activity, the school should help pay for your child’s medical bills and other costs. Sadly, schools typically refuse to help when parents do not seek the help of an experienced child injury law attorney.

Some of the areas in which an attorney can help you file a school liability claim are:

  • Teacher Negligence
  • Inadequate Supervision
  • Assaults and Battery
  • School Bus Accidents
  • Student Bullying
  • Teacher-Child Abuse
  • Playground Accidents
  • Field Trip Accidents
  • Children Wandering Off Campus
  • Cross-Walk Accidents
  • Sexual Molestation

The rules for suing a public school are found in the “California Tort Claims Act.” There are 3 steps you must take the following steps to file a claim against a school. We go over these in our free legal guide, Safe at School: The Duty to Protect Our Children in California Schools.  

A word of caution. We highly recommend you seek the help of an attorney before you file your claim with the school district. It is important that you are very careful when describing how an injury happened. Your description must put the government on notice of all possible theories of liability that you intend to pursue in your lawsuit. The courts are very strict about this rule and may not allow your claim to be pursued if it doesn't describe a particular theory of liability.

Suing A Private School in California

Private schools are not protected by government immunity unless they receive federal funding. For this reason, it may be easier to school a private school. Private schools also have a longer statute of limitations date, which means that you  have more than 6 months to file your claim.

Bullying

Bullying has become an epidemic in America. Many kids do not feel safe going to their schools. They feel intimidated by other kids and can’t focus on learning because of the anxiety that has been created in schools. Schools are required to develop a comprehensive school safety plan pursuant to California Education Code Sections 32280-32289. This plan must be written and developed by a School Site Counsel or Safety Planning Committee. Law enforcement must be consulted in the writing and developing of this plan. An assessment of school crime at the school and at school events must be performed. This assessment must include an analysis of office referrals, school attendance, suspension/expulsion data, California healthy kids survey, school improvement plan, local law enforcement data and property damage data. The school must identify appropriate strategies and programs that provide and maintain a high level of school safety and address the school’s procedures for complying with existing laws related to school safety including child abuse reporting procedures and disaster procedures, routine and emergency and a crises response plan.

If you suspect that your child is being bullied, it is extremely important to document it with the school before you file a lawsuit. You must prove that the school knew about the bullying in order to claim that they are negligent. Each school has their own policy when it comes to filing complaints.

You should keep copies of each and every complaint that you file with the school. In addition, you should keep a journal of all dates and incidents along with the teachers who were notified. These are all valuable when proving your claim.

Negligent Security 

Frequently, schools and school districts find themselves underfunded. The schools need to respond to the threats created for students today, but the school districts tend to overlook or ignore the physical safety of students. Schools will skimp on having enough teachers and/or school security outside of classrooms between classes or during recess and lunch. Having a sufficient number of teachers and security outside of the classrooms and on campus is vital to preventing school violence. Having teachers and security visible on campus serves two main purposes: it allows students to feel safe and it deters students who might otherwise feel emboldened to commit acts of violence.

Negligent Supervision 

The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) recommends the playground supervision ratio of adult supervisors to children should mirror classroom ratios. This varies by age of children. You should ask your school for a copy of their student supervision guidelines or other similar safety plan. Often you can find these things on the school district’s website. Sometimes they may be a part of a school-wide employee training manual.  

The majority of negligent supervision cases hinge on what the school personnel should have done, what they did do, and what they failed to do.

Other Common Areas of Negligence 

  • Improper Safety Procedures for School Buses or Automobile Traffic 
  • Negligent Training, Hiring and/or Supervision of Employees  
  • Inadequate Planning: Evacuations and Emergencies
  • Failure to Provide Required Medication  
  • Unsafe Equipment or Buildings (which officials knew about, but failed to repair)
  • Allowing Strangers to Enter School Premises  
  • Not Notifying Parent of Bullying, Sexual Assault, Injuries, etc.   

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