NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Educators Being Sued

November 22, 1999

It's tough being a public school official, principal or even a teacher these days, according to reports -- because you could be sued by an irate parent, or held up to ridicule by someone not even connected to the issue.

For example, civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson is suing the Decatur, Ill., school board for $30 million because of a brawl between black students who were later suspended from classes for starting it.

Even though school lawsuits declined this decade, experts say their scope has expanded to encompass everything from personal injury and sexual harassment to religious liberty and free expression.

  • In the 1940s, there were only 1,552 reported court decisions involving educational institutions, according to Perry Zirkel of the Lehigh University College of Education.
  • Over the intervening decades that grew to 5,788 decisions by the 1970s -- a number which has declined somewhat to an estimated 5,053 during the 1990s.
  • A July survey of 523 elementary and secondary school principals found that 25 percent had lawsuits or out-of-court settlements in the last two years.
  • Some 65 percent of them noticed a difference in the kinds of school-related programs offered because of liability concerns -- and 78 percent have terminated all physical contact with students, such as hugging.

The liability insurance provided by unions and associations can be a primary reason teachers and principals join them.

A survey by the Texas Secondary Principals' Association found that the very first reason that educators joined the group was for the liability insurance offered -- up to $1 million in coverage, according to Conroe, Texas, High School principal Alan Veach.

Source: Andrea Billups, "Educators Learn from Lawsuits," Washington Times, November 21, 1999.


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