There are several reasons to file a lawsuit against your child’s school or school district, usually because of human rights violations and other issues. Your child has rights as a student and it is essential to understand those rights in order to best protect your child. You may need to sue the school district you are employed by for claims related to your employment.
Unfortunately, there are very few instances in which you actually have the right to sue a school district. Thus, lawsuits against school districts are generally much more complicated than other lawsuits. It is imperative to understand the legal process and what will be required of you before filing your school district lawsuit.
First, the most important step in suing a school district is ensuring that you have a proper cause of action. In law, a cause of action refers to a set of facts that are deemed sufficient to justify the right to sue, in order to obtain money, property, or the enforcement of rights.
Before you begin the legal process of suing a school district, you need to first identify what your legal cause of action is, or the type of legal claim. The most common causes of action against a school district are:
- Discrimination and Other Civil Rights Violations: Discrimination most often occurs when schools engage in “selective admissions,” or denying a student admission to school based on a protected category such as: gender, race, national origin, or religious beliefs. Schools are also not allowed to give a student preferential treatment based on those same categories;
- Child abuse or Failure to Protect a Child from Abuse: This includes failing to report to the proper authorities when the district knows of a child being abused, as well as failing to step in when a child is being abused, or bullied, by another student. Bullying includes but is not limited to threats or physical abuse. Public schools are required to provide a learning environment free from harassment, bullying, and other unsafe situations;
- Sexual Misconduct and Harassment: Sexual harassment involves unwanted sexual advances or conduct, or other verbal or physical actions of a sexual nature. Obviously, sexual harassment is illegal on many levels, including the federal level, and is a serious crime. It is also considered a form of teacher-student abuse, as well as a cause of action on those grounds;
- Personal Injuries Caused by a School Employee: This legal cause of action arises from negligent acts from school employees, such as hazardous conditions which cause injury to the students;
- Improper Expulsion: Expulsion is a form of discipline dispensed when a student engages in conduct that the school board has outlined as inappropriate, such as drug or alcohol use on campus, fighting with another student, and severe disruptions to the learning environment. If you believe that your child has been wrongfully expelled, you can sue the school and the school district for damages, or for an order reversing the action and therefore preventing the action being recorded in the student’s record;
- Disabilities and Special Education: Schools are required to adhere to several laws and stipulations regarding disabled students and special education programs. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides rights for these students. If the school or district fails, you have a valid legal claim;
- Failure to Return Personal Property: Schools are allowed to take your personal possessions, such as a cell phone, if they are not permitted on campus and you are in violation of that rule. However, they must return the item within a specified timeframe; or
- Claims Related to Your Employment with the School District: This includes workers’ compensation, wrongful termination, and wage and hour claims.
Because of governmental immunity, public schools are protected by certain types of lawsuits. Governmental immunity protects the government from interference from lawsuits and makes it easier for the government to make decisions.
However, governmental immunity has its limits. Immunity varies from state to state, but essentially a government agency cannot claim immunity when gross negligence or willful misconduct was involved.
Important Step to Sue a School: File an Administrative Complaint Before You File a Lawsuit Against the School
Next, you will file an administrative complaint against the school. This is sometimes referred to as “exhausting your administrative remedies” and is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) before filing a lawsuit with the courts.
The court could automatically dismiss your claim if you do not follow the required administrative process. This sometimes involves short filing deadlines, which could also lead to automatic dismissal if missed, so it is important to file your complaint against the school district within these specified time limits.
An administrative agency will investigate your claims, and if they find a violation, the agency may attempt to remedy the situation by reinstating your child, changing school policies, or terminating the at-fault employees. If the agency fails to resolve your dispute with the school district, the law could allow you to file a personal lawsuit.
Once these administrative remedies are exhausted, you may file a lawsuit. This requires filing a legal complaint and summons with the court. You must serve the lawsuit on the school district designated representative, and they must file a written response to your suit. If you cannot settle your case after litigation, the court will schedule a trial.
No, unlike public schools, private schools are not protected by governmental immunity, and therefore the process is not the same. However, if a private school accepts any sort of federal funding, it must comply with certain laws, such as anti-discrimination laws. You may also have other legal causes of action as well, such as disputes over tuition and school admission policies.
Although not a requirement, hiring an experienced attorney may be in your best interests. As can be seen, the process of suing a school or school district is incredibly complicated and delicate. It is time intensive and detailed. A knowledgeable and experienced government attorney can help you avoid costly mistakes, as well as ensure the process proceeds correctly. They can also help you maximize your recovery as well as represent you in court, if necessary.