There are many reasons you may want to sue a school or school district. However, lawsuits against schools typically are more complicated than other claims. Before you file your school district lawsuit, make sure you understand the legal process.
Identifying Your “Cause of Action”
You always must identify your legal cause of action (or type of legal claim). Some common causes of action against schools involve:
- Discrimination and other civil rights violations;
- Failure to protect a child or report abuse;
- Sexual misconduct and other abuse;
- Personal injuries caused by a school employee;
- Improper expulsion;
- Failure to return your personal property;
- Claims related to your employment with a school district (such as workers’ compensation, wrongful termination, and wage and hour claims); and
- Breach of contract claims involving business partners and unpaid debts.
Unfortunately, public school districts are protected from certain types of lawsuits by governmental immunity. However, governmental immunity has its limitations. While immunity rules vary from state-to-state, a government agency typically cannot claim immunity when there was:
- Gross negligence (very serious negligence), or
- Willful misconduct.
If you need help understanding your state’s immunity rules, contact an experienced lawyer.
Once you identify your legal issues and assess the school district’s immunity, you can begin preparing your claim. This typically involves compiling evidence and filing paperwork with either an administrative agency or the court.
Filing an Administrative Complaint Against the School
In many school-related cases, you must complete an administrative complaint process before you file a lawsuit with the courts (sometimes referred to as “exhausting your administrative remedies”). If you do not complete the required administrative process, the court may automatically dismiss your lawsuit.
Sometimes, administrative complaints involve short filing deadlines. It’s important that you file your complaint within these time limits. If you do not file a timely complaint, it may be dismissed—ending your claim against the school.
Once you file a timely administrative complaint, the administrative agency will investigate your claims. This may involve the review of documents, interviews, and other activities. If the agency discovers a violation, it may attempt to remedy the problem by reinstating your child, changing school policies, or terminating employees who were at fault. If the administrative agency does not resolve your dispute with the school district, the law may allow you to file a personal lawsuit.
Filing a Lawsuit Against a Public School District
Once you exhaust any administrative remedies, you may file a lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit against a school district requires the filing of a legal complaint and summons with the court. Next, you must serve your lawsuit on the school district. Once your paperwork is properly served, the school district must file a written answer (or response) to your lawsuit.
Finally, you will actively litigate your case by participating in a discovery process, filing various legal motions, and possibly negotiating a settlement. If you cannot settle your case, the court will schedule a trial.
Is the Process of Suing a School District the Same for Private Schools?
Private schools are not protected by governmental immunity. However, if a private school accepts federal funding, it must comply with certain laws (such as anti-discrimination laws).
In addition to the causes of action discussed above, you may have other legal claims against a private school. For example, disputes may arise out of tuition disputes and a school’s admissions policies.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Suing a School District?
Filing a lawsuit against a school district is a time intensive and detailed process. An experienced government lawyer can help you avoid costly mistakes and help you navigate your claim’s procedural requirements. And, a lawyer can you maximize your recovery by compiling your evidence, developing strong legal arguments, and presenting your case to the judge or jury.