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Teachers Beware! America is known for being a litigious society, and no one is immune from a lawsuit, not even a beloved teacher. Though in many instances, a school or school district is named as a defendant in a lawsuit, there are times when teachers are individually sued and held civilly liable. What can a teacher do? In addition to carrying teacher's insurance to help cover legal costs, teachers may want to steer clear of the following.
Some kids have an amazing knack for pushing people's buttons. Teachers often getting highly irritated when the same student misbehaves, or the same class rule is violated, time and time again. But keep your cool, or you may end up on the wrong side of an assault or battery lawsuit, which is by far the most common charge against teachers. When is it OK to grab or push a student? This varies dramatically in each situation and what is considered reasonable by each jurisdiction. Any handling of, or attempt to touch, a student comes at a risk to teachers. Pushing a student may be OK if, for instance, it was needed to keep order in a class. But may not be OK if it wasn't necessary, in excess, or to punish. For instance, an Indiana schoolteacher was criminally charged and sued for $200,000 for grabbing the student by the neck, striking him, and taking him to a "quiet room". Though a teacher may not be sued for grabbing a student's arm, he or she may be disciplined by the district, and potentially be fired, which sometimes can be just as devastating.
Not only must teachers watch what they do, but also what they say, or in this instance, write. Teachers may not defame a student. In one Virginia lawsuit, an 8th grade teacher became irritated with a student recently diagnosed with ADHD. The teacher physically grabbed the back of the student's head (resulting in an assault and battery claim), and then wrote "FOCUS" on the student's forehead with a marker (resulting in a defamation claim). All totaled, the teacher has been sued by the student's parents for $3 million.
While this sort of defamation should shock the conscience of most people, what about other instances? A teacher could be sued if they tell someone that a fellow teacher is not good at his or her job. Teachers also cannot share information about a student's behavior or academic performance with other teachers, parents, or students. All of these actions can result in a defamation lawsuit.
A teacher can also be sued for Intentional Infliction of Emotion Distress, based on their actions or their words. In Chicago, a teacher posted a photo on Facebook of a seven year old girl, mocking her hair style, and her parents sued for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. In California, parents of an overweight middle school boy sued a Physical Education teacher for mocking the boy's weight, allowing others in class to mock him as well, and forcing him to participate in PE class, over the recommendation of the boy's doctor.
Liability insurance in any job is often a great idea, from doctors to artists. Teachers, students, and parents should be aware of their district's policy regarding all forms of student discipline and teacher protocol. If you feel that your child has been unfairly treated at school, or if you are a teacher accused of unfair treatment, contact an education lawyer in your area that can review the facts of your case and offer you sound legal advice.
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