Magazine article Curriculum Administrator

Litigation Blues: School Districts Being Hit with More Lawsuits

Magazine article Curriculum Administrator

Litigation Blues: School Districts Being Hit with More Lawsuits

Article excerpt

In Pleasant Hill, Mo., the school district recently agreed to pay a student $72,500 in a case where school officials allegedly did nothing to stop other kids from taunting and beating up the student because they thought he was gay. While in Midland, Texas, a student received $150,000 in a settlement of a case after he was suspended, placed in special school for problem students and forced to miss graduation for having a picture of the high school principal's car parked in front of a female teacher's home.

While these are just two examples of recent litigation school districts have had to grapple with during the past several months, they point to a larger issue confronting the nation's school systems. More districts are being sued in the U.S. today than in any other era in recent history. The question is not if your district has been sued, but how often.

"We've seen an increase (in school districts being sued) over the past few years," says Julie Lewis, who observes district and federal litigation against schools for the National School Boards Association.

While specific statistics on the exact number of lawsuits filed against school districts is scarce, Lewis says governments can thank themselves for part of the increase.

"One of the reasons is that the amount of responsibility that districts have taken on over the years with new regulations and mandates has increased dramatically in the past five years. And when responsibilities increase, there are more things that people can sue over," Lewis told CURRICULUM ADMINISTRATOR.

Not long after the settlement in Midland, the town's high school principal, Neil Richmond, who is married, resigned. "I think it's in the best interest of the district," Superintendent Joseph Baressi Jr. told the Midland Reporter-Telegram newspaper.

According to the Associated Press, Baressi and other school board members refused to say whether Richmond was asked to resign, but the board approved the resignation and agreed to buy out the remainder of his contract, which was to expire in 2001. The district also asked Richmond to sign a waiver, releasing the district from any future charges or claims, according to the AP.

The former high school student, Casey Riggan, was punished for "being disrespectful and fostering rumors" after the photo of Richmond's car was taken in front of the unmarried teacher's home in January 1999. …

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