School Liability For Bullying

School bullying continues to be a hot topic.  Bullying of course can result in criminal charges against those responsible for the bullying, but what about the school’s liability?  Sometimes schools can be held civilly responsible for injuries caused by bullying.

Iowa’s courts have recognized that schools have a “special relationship” with students.   Schools thus have a general obligation to safeguard the physical and mental well-being of students, including from the acts of other students.  Such claims would normally be based on a negligence theory, i.e., that the school knew of the bullying and did nothing to stop it.  It is very difficult to hold a school liable for bullying if the school did not know of and have a chance to prevent or stop the bullying.

In 2007 Iowa enacted an anti-bullying statute, Iowa Code 280.28.  That law defines bullying as “any electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or conduct toward a student which is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student and which creates an objectively hostile school environment that meets one or more of the following conditions: (1)  Places the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property; (2)  Has a substantially detrimental effect on the student’s physical or mental health; (3)  Has the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s academic performance; or (4)  Has the effect of substantially interfering with the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.”  Iowa Code 280.28 also requires schools to enact anti-bullying policies.  The statute does not provide for liability if its provisions are not followed by a school.

Depending on the circumstances, bullying may also result in violations of certain federal and state statutes that specifically apply to schools.  Examples would be laws that govern the schooling of individuals with mental or physical handicaps and laws that prohibit sex discrimination in education.

Please feel free to contact me if you believe that your child has suffered personal injuries or wrongful death because of bullying at school.

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