NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

School Principals' Latest Worry: Lawsuits

September 16, 1999

The threat of lawsuits -- by parents, students or teachers -- is now a major factor governing the way principals run their schools. According to Vincent Ferrandine, head of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, "Whenever we plan for anything in a school today, our first consideration is how to avoid a lawsuit." The organization recently surveyed members and found:

  • Some 31 percent of high school principals faced lawsuits or out of court settlements within the past two years -- up from less than 10 percent a decade ago.
  • And 65 percent changed some school programs due to liability concerns.
  • The National Association of Secondary School Principals estimates large school districts with more than 10,000 students spend up to $1 million a year on routine legal matters.
  • Just one lawsuit can cost up to $100,000 -- a killer for a small school district.

Critics charge the fear of lawsuits leads to zero tolerance discipline programs which are often carried to absurdity purely to avoid lawsuits. For example, in Salisbury, Maryland, a 10- year-old boy was suspended and charged with four counts of second-degree assault for snapping girls' bras. And in Fairborn, Ohio, the school district sent a 13-year-old honors student to "chemical evaluation" for taking a Midol she got from a friend. Only by doing that could she avoid an 80-day suspension.

And, observers note, it could get worse. A Supreme Court decision last year -- Davis vs. Monroe County Board of Education -- said students could sue school boards for sexual harassment by other students.

Source: Anna Bray Duff, "Teachers, Principals or Lawyers? In Era of Lawsuits, Who's Running Your Kid's School?" Investor's Business Daily, September 16, 1999.


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