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School Boards Are Not Vicariously Liable for Teacher Misconduct Under Title IX

In the case of Bannister v. Knox Cty. Bd. of Edn., 49 F.4th 1000 (6th Cir.2022) the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of Title IX claims asserted by parents against a school board arising from the suicide of their son as there was no evidence that the school board had “actual knowledge” of either a journal entry expressing the son’s suicidal thoughts or of the teacher’s failure to share this entry with the parents.

In this case, the parents argue that the teacher engaged in Title IX sex discrimination by ignoring the suicidal thoughts expressed in their son’s journal entry because of their son’s failure to conform to gender stereotypes and that both the teacher and school administrators repeated discriminatory conduct toward their son, which, thereby created a “hostile school environment.” In response, the school board argued that no administrators had “actual knowledge” of either the journal entry or of the teacher’s failure to share the entry with the parents and, in any event, the school board cannot be held vicariously liable for the acts of a teacher. The federal appellate court agreed with the school board.

In support of its decision in favor of the school board, the federal appellate court explained that the parents alleged no facts showing that any of the school administrators had “actual knowledge” of either the journal entry or of the teacher’s failure to share it with the parents. While the complaint alleges that the teacher read this entry and did not tell the parents about it, the complaint does not allege that the teacher alerted anyone else about the journal entry, and it does not plead any facts suggesting that the administrators came across the entry through other means. In fact, the federal appellate court explained that just the opposite is alleged as the complaint asserts that the teacher did not alert the school administrators about the journal entry and that the teacher broke the school board’s policy by failing to do so. And, because the parents cannot hold the school board vicariously liable for the teacher’s alleged misconduct, the parents cannot prevail on their Title IX claims against the school board.

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

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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