Can Schools Be Held Liable for Violent Acts During School or Aboard a School Bus?

Along with much of the nation, our community and our Panama City school safety law firm anxiously watched the events in Midland City, Alabama last week. We were all relieved to see the safe return of a kidnapped young boy to his family following his abduction from a school bus and confinement in an underground bunker. Our proximity to the events, which followed so quickly on the heels of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, has many people asking about the safety of our kids and the potential liability of schools for violent acts.

Considering School Policies Following Newtown and Midland

In December, following the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary, Gov. Rick Scott called on Florida school districts to review their emergency plans. A report in Sunshine State News noted schools had been primarily following two emergency directives:

  1. The 2001 Safe Passage Act required that all districts update their safety and security program on a yearly basis with parent, community, emergency response agencies, and school-related groups.
  2. A Florida Department of Education policy set in 2003 that required limited access points for all schools, daily inspection of school grounds, a partner alert program, and increased police coverage. Gov. Scott asked school districts to better protect students by reviewing and enhancing current emergency plans in conjunction with other interested groups.

The News Herald reported on another look at school safety, this time focused on school transportation, which came from Bay District School administrators in the week of the events in Midland. After examining procedures, administrators and school bus drivers believe that current procedures are sufficient to keep students safe. Per Florida law, students are the only ones permitted to enter school buses. While no changes are planned, Dr. John Haley, the district's executive director of operational support services, says there is an increased awareness of the potential for problems in our own backyard.

Liability for Injuries and Death at School or Aboard School Transit

Parents trust schools to educate their children and to keep them safe, both throughout the school day and during the trip to and from the school. When a child is seriously injured or killed in a violent act during school, aboard school transportation, or while at a school-related activity, there may be a claim against the school. Florida law is clear that schools are not automatically liable for every incident that causes injury or death while a child is under the school's care. However, a claim against the school may exist if the negligence of school employees led to the incident.

Foreseeability and preventability are important factors in determining the school's liability. Other related issues include whether a threat was made/known, whether school and/or district policies were ignored or deficient, and the level of supervision present at the school. Of course, the involvement of school personnel may also be relevant. Premises liability principles, particularly negligent security concepts, can also come into play in a civil claim against a school for events on school property.

We know that there are more heroes in the Newtown and Midland stories than there are villains. We also know that schools are an important part of our communities and the foundation of our future. However, schools still can and must be held responsible for their safety failures, big or small. If your child is injured in a violent incident or otherwise harmed while under the care of our schools, please call our Panama City school injury lawyer.

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