What Constitutes Negligence in Schools?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Negligence in schools is a serious issue that can sometimes lead to legal cases. Most of the time, negligence in schools is examined on a case by case basis in order to determine if it qualifies for legal protection or damages. In order for a teacher, school, or school official to be successfully convicted of negligence, the court must believe that the defendant failed to maintain a proscribed standard of care, which lead directly to an accident or injury with measurable damages.

When a student gets injured playing football, it would be difficult to pursue a negligence lawsuit if a reasonable standard of care has been taken by the school.
When a student gets injured playing football, it would be difficult to pursue a negligence lawsuit if a reasonable standard of care has been taken by the school.

Schools are a common location for negligence issues since the care of children is placed in the hands of the school. To a certain extent, the employees of a school and the school district itself are liable for the safety of all students while they are on the grounds of the school or on a school supervised outing. In legal terms, this reasonable expectation of protection is known as a duty of care, which, if breached, can lead to charges of negligence in schools.

If a student is able to leave campus due to a lapse in reasonable security and comes to personal harm, a school might be considered legally responsible.
If a student is able to leave campus due to a lapse in reasonable security and comes to personal harm, a school might be considered legally responsible.

A duty of care doesn't necessarily make a school legally liable for every accident or injury that occurs. Generally, negligence in schools involves an employee in breach of a proscribed duty. This may mean that he or she fails to follow safety protocol, does not provide adequate supervision, or acts incorrectly in the event of an accident or injury. The breadth of duty may depend on the job of the teacher or employee; an auto-shop teacher, for instance, will probably have a more serious duty to the safety of students than an janitor. Additionally, if a student leaves campus without permission or supervision, the school might not be considered legally responsible for any incident that occurs to the student, unless it can be shown that the student was able to leave due to a lapse in reasonable security.

Sometimes, for negligence in schools to be prosecutable, the breach of care must be causally connected to an incident that causes physical, mental, or psychological damage. This means that the incident would not have occurred if the standard of care was upheld. For instance, if a student gets injured while practicing football, despite having permission from his parents to play and being provided with adequate training, supervision, and equipment, it would be difficult to pursue a negligence lawsuit since a reasonable standard of care is being upheld. If, however, a student receives a head injury after being forbidden use of a helmet by a coach, the coach might well be held in breach of duty.

Legal cases of negligence in school are typically civil torts that are resolved through the issuance of damages as the court decides. This means that there must be measurable loss or damage to the defendant, whether through physical or mental injuries, or through the loss of opportunities or property caused by negligence. If an incident occurs through negligence but without any measurable loss or damage, the court may be unable to resolve the issue since there is no way to assign compensatory measures.

Failing to provide a reasonable level of safety and order in the classroom can result in negligence.
Failing to provide a reasonable level of safety and order in the classroom can result in negligence.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments

anon929002

Would it be negligence if my six year old daughter was left unsupervised, in a small play area outside a classroom with other children while there was a teacher and two assistants inside? She got up off a table she was sitting by outside, tripped over a leg of the table, fell against the railings and cut her head open.

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