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What Does "In Loco Parentis" Mean?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2014
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“In loco parentis” refers to the rights and responsibilities that certain organizations or individuals have with regard to minors under their care. The term is typically used in reference to schools with respect to how the teachers and staff should behave toward the students. It can be used in a way that is meant to ensure schools have the rights to do what is necessary in the students' best interests, such as locker searches. “In loco parentis” can also refer to the responsibilities a teacher has for his or her students as the acting guardian for students in a classroom.

The term “in loco parentis” is a Latin phrase that translates as “in place of a parent” or “instead of a parent” and refers to how schools and school administrators are expected to act with reference to students and other minors. In other words, the employees of a school are charged by the parents of the students to act on their behalf while the students are there. This is typically upheld by the owners of a private institution or by the government when it comes to publicly funded education. Though “in loco parentis” was once used by colleges and universities, it principally refers to elementary and high schools in modern contexts.

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In general, this phrase has two fundamental applications with regard to how schools and school employees are expected to behave with students. One major use of the term is in reference to the rights schools have with regard to students and behavior issues. Since a school is seen to be acting in the place of the parents of every student at the school, the school is expected to act in the highest regard to all students. This is the basis for actions such as locker searches, student conduct policies, and dress codes.

Such policies are typically seen as the school acting “in loco parentis” for the entirety of the student populace. On the other hand, the teachers of a school are also charged with the responsibility of acting toward their students as a responsible parent is expected to treat his or her children. Teachers, therefore, are responsible for the well-being of students at a school. This attitude is often reflected in emergency situations, as teachers will frequently put themselves in danger to ensure the safety of students. The policy of “in loco parentis” often is combined with the sentiment that students are a “captive audience” with regard to the rights of students and how teachers are expected to respect such rights.

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