Welcome to FindLaw's School Safety section. Most parents and educators would agree that the safety of students while at school is a major priority, since a safe and secure school setting allows students to learn and thrive. Whether that includes having a strong discipline policy in place for students who may experience violence, or making sure the premises are free from defects that could potential harm an unwatchful eye, this section provides an overview of school safety laws. Included are sections on school violence and weapons at school, an unfortunately common problem. This section also provides information about schools' authority to administer medications.
School Safety Issues at a Glance
There are many ways in which a student's safety may be compromised at school, from slip-and-fall accidents and tainted cafeteria food to bullying and violence at the hands of fellow students. Here are the main types of safety issues for most schools:
- Bullying - This is a major concern, since bullying has been cited as the spark igniting many school massacres; it also severely impacts a student's ability to learn and thrive. Social media and mobile devices have only exacerbated the harmful impacts of bullying.
- Premises Liability - Just like homes and businesses, schools are required to maintain a reasonably safe environment with respect to the condition of the premises.
- School-Related Product Safety - Are the lunch trays lined with a dangerous level of BPAs? Are items in the science lab safe for students to use?
- Teachers and Administrators - School staff must be aware of safety hazards and the concerns of students, while keeping an eye out for any actions by fellow staff members that may compromise student safety.
- First Amendment Issues - Students have the right to free speech and expression up to a certain point, but may not act in a way that compromises another student's safety or their ability to learn.
Unfortunately, instances of mass shootings in schools have become somewhat common. Perhaps the most commonly referred school shootings are the tragic massacres in Littleton, Co. (Columbine) in 1999 and in Newtown, Connecticut (Sandy Hook) in 2012. Both incidents involved troubled teens who were subject to bullying and/or suffering from mental health disorders. Preventing these tragedies can be quite difficult, since many schools have open campuses and regularly checking students' belongings is impractical.
However, many schools have implemented the use of metal detectors at entrances; have removed school lockers; and have zero tolerance policies. For instance, a student's mere mention of a bomb or firearm can lead to expulsion or a call to the local police, regardless of that student's actual intentions. The stakes are just too high to not take every threat or hint of violence seriously.
Students who attempt to bring weapons to school are governed by federal zero tolerance policies under the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994, making it a federal crime to do so. While the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the original Gun Free Schools Act, key provisions were folded into No Child Left Behind legislation. School administrators who have reasonable suspicion that a student is in possession of a weapon may search their belongings.
State and local laws generally govern how and when schools may administer medications to students. Many of these laws shield teachers, school nurses, and other staff from liability through sovereign immunity laws. In addition, most schools require students to show proof of certain immunizations prior to enrollment.
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