Can You Sue a Private School for Bullying?
By Attorney Brian Dunmire
We want our children to feel safe at school. Other than the home, school is the one place where children should be safe from the dangers of everyday society. This is especially important for parents when their kids go off to school. Whether a parent is sending their kid to kindergarten for the first time or whether it is the first day of high school, you want to be sure that your children are safe at school.
As the rates of bullying rise, the public school system in the United States has been the subject of much criticism in the last several years from the parents of public school students. Despite anti-bullying campaigns, many parents have elected to send their children to charter schools or private schools. Although charter schools and private schools may provide for a better education than public school, many charter and private schools face the same issues with bullying that public schools deal with.
As a personal injury attorney, I often get phone calls from parents asking whether they can make a claim against a private or charter school due to the fact that their child was bullied at school. The simple answer is yes, you can make a claim against a private or charter school for bullying.
What is a bullying claim?
To understand what a bullying claim is, a parent must understand what bullying entails. Bullying can take on many forms – verbal bullying, physical bullying, or even sexual assault (link to articles from a bullying website). Many times your child may be embarrassed about getting bullied at school or picked on at school and will not tell you right away. It is not uncommon for your child to not immediately tell you about the incident. Often times we discover that incidents of bullying have gone on for months and months until a child decides to tell someone at the school or their parents about the bullying.
A claim for bullying could be anything from a single physical attack on your child to a sexual assault that occurs in a bathroom or somewhere else on school property. Unfortunately, these attacks happen at private and charter schools as well as public schools.
When a child is attacked by a bully at school, the parents of the child can bring a claim for negligent supervision. Public schools (schools that are run by the government) are subject to Florida’s sovereign immunity statute which can delay and complicate the claims process against a school. However, Florida’s charter and private schools are not subject to Florida’s sovereign immunity laws. This means that a parent of a child can make a claim against a school in the same manner that someone can make a claim against a business for sustaining an injury in a slip-and-fall accident.
Typically a claim for bullying will be against the school for its negligent supervision of the children. In order to prevail on a theory of negligent supervision, a plaintiff must prove the basic elements of negligence – duty, breach, causation, and damages. Thus, a plaintiff must establish (1) the existence of a teacher-student relationship between the parties giving rise to a legal duty on the part of the defendant-teacher to supervise the student; (2) the negligent breach of that duty; and (3) the proximate causation of the student’s injury by the teacher’s negligence. Ankers v. District School Board of Pasco County, 406 So. 2d 72 (Fla. 2d DCA 1981). As you have to prove the legal basis of the claim, it is important to work with an attorney as soon as you suspect that your child is the victim of bullying.
The private school’s responsibility
In plain English, if your child was enrolled in a charter or private school, the school voluntarily undertook a duty to protect your child from bullying. Because the school agreed to provide a safe learning environment for your child in exchange for money, you could have a claim if your child was bullied at school. This is due to the fact that if your child was bullied at school, it is possible that the school failed to uphold the duty that they owed to you and your child to keep your child safe from bullying.
There is no “clear cut” case of bullying – every case brings its own facts and circumstances which must be evaluated. Oftentimes no one knows the full extent of the bullying until an investigation is launched and the school is forced to provide details. There are also additional considerations if the school specifically markets itself for special needs or at-risk students. Arguably there is a higher standard of care regarding the protection of students who attend private schools.
What to do if you suspect your child is the victim of private school bullying
If you or your child has been the victim of bullying, Brian Dunmire would welcome the opportunity to provide you with a free and confidential consultation. One of Brian’s specialties is holding schools accountable for bullying and assaults that occur to the students. By holding the schools accountable we can work together to help make our schools safer for everyone. There are no fees or costs for a case consultation and if you have a claim, there are no fees or costs unless Brian successfully obtains money for your claim. If you have any questions regarding bullying or assaults at school, please call Brian Dunmire at 407-512-4394 to schedule a time to discuss your claim with Brian.
More information here – The Effects of Bullying: What you Need to Know