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How Do You Sue a School District?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

Suing a school district may not be the most common way to resolve an issue with school administrators, but it is a course of action school employees, parents and families can take under certain circumstances. If a school violates someone's rights or causes injury or harm, the injured party can seek compensation.

Generally, suing a school district is an uphill battle for plaintiffs and involves a complex legal process. The first of many steps a plaintiff will need to take is to determine the grounds for the lawsuit against the school district.

The Basis for A Suit (Causes of Action)

A number of situations can serve as a basis for filing a lawsuit against a school district, including:

  • Discrimination in either admissions or hiring practices against a student or school employee on the basis of race, sex, age, disability, among other "protected" categories. Lawsuits regarding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are more controversial and less clear.
  • Injury caused to a student or school employee on school grounds or during school activities. This includes the school's failure to prevent bullying or acts of violence.
  • Improper expulsion of a student.
  • Excessive punishment of a student.
  • Improper employment practices against a school employee including improper discharge.
  • Sexual misconduct committed by someone associated with the school.
  • Inadequate supervision of a student.

The Result (Relief)

After identifying the most applicable cause(s) of action, a plaintiff will also need to determine what form of compensation or relief is appropriate. For example, a physical injury on school grounds due to a lack of supervision may result in a plaintiff recovering medical expenses. A suit based on discrimination, on the other hand, may call for a mandatory injunction, an action taken or not taken, such as the adoption of a non-discriminatory policy.

Public v. Private

It is important to note that the causes of actions listed above may depend on whether the school at issue is a public or private institution. For example, disputes about tuition or selective admission policies affect private institutions, not public schools.

In addition, a suit against a private school may involve breach of contract issues. This is because the underlying issue is often written into the contract that is signed by the private school and the student's parent (or the student).

However, if a private school receives federal funding, it is generally subject to the same laws as public schools.

Unless an administrative agency must first be contacted to conduct an investigation, once a plaintiff can clearly identify the defendants, the reason for the suit and compensation sought, a formal complaint can be filed. Given the complicated nature of lawsuits against school districts, the assistance of an experienced attorney is not only helpful, but necessary.

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