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School Boards and Officials Are Immune from Liability When They Are Unaware of Student’s Dangerous Propensity

In the case of Doe v. Jackson Local Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., N.D. Ohio No. 5:17-cv-1931, an Ohio federal district court held that a school board and several of its employees are immune from liability where a student sexually harassed another student on a school bus because the school board and its employees had no notice of the student’s sexual harassment.

This case involved a tragic incident where an eleven year old student sexually assaulted a five year old student on a school bus over a four week period. The eleven year old student had a history of serious behavior problems and was on a behavior safety plan while at school. However, none of the eleven year old student’s prior behavior problems involved sexual misconduct. When the five year old student’s parents learned that their child was sexual assaulted by the eleven year old, the parents sued the school board and several of its employees for failing to prevent the assault.

As a general rule, school boards and their employees are not liable for harm caused by one student to another student unless the school board or their employees created a situation that promoted the harm. In this case, the federal district court determined that the school board and its employees did not promote the harm because they did not have notice or knowledge of the eleven year old student’s propensity to commit sexual assault in spite of several past disciplinary infractions involving the student. The federal district court highlighted the specific fact that the eleven year old student had never been disciplined for sexually related infractions in the past, thereby distinguishing the sexual assault from past infractions. Had the eleven year old student harmed the five year old student in some way similar to the eleven year old student’s past infractions, the school board and its employees may have been liable for the harm.

This case serves as a reminder that school boards must take all student-on-student harassment seriously and take steps to prevent student-on-student harassment. This outcome of this case may have been much different if the school board or its employees had notice of prior similar harassment.

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling, Patrick Vrobel, and John T. Sulik, Jr.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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