A school district can be like a parent as it takes care of students who are underage and needing supervision. That attention is greater when the student is more vulnerable. However, the school district’s duty is absolute but, instead, limited to those who are in the district’s custody, even when the incident is tragic. A sexual assault by one student against another 14-year-old student did not result in liability to the school district because the students had left the school bus and were outside of the school district’s control. ln BL v. Caddo Parish School Board (La. Ct. App. 2 Cir. 9/21/11), the court of appeal affirmed dismissal of the case by the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo.
KKG, the son of BL, had learning disabilities caused in part from his premature birth. His mother enrolled him in “special education classes” at Caddo Learning Center when he was 14. Both KKG and another student, LNG, rode on the same school bus. LNG had a record of disciplinary problems. School records noted 60 reported offenses.
On October 19, 2006, KKG and LNG were friendly. They normally got off the bus at the same stop, and that day they did. KKG went to LNG’s house to swap video games, but when they got to the house, LNG said he forgot that the games were at his aunt’s house. “On the walk to his aunt’s house, LNG threatened to hit KKG with a brick if he did not do as he was told. LNG then sexually assaulted KKG.” KKG ran to his grandmother’s house, where he reported the assault. DNA provided a positive match to LNG, who was adjudicated a delinquent in juvenile court.
BL, KKG’s mother, sued Caddo Parish School Board. She alleged that the school district could have prevented the assault with proper supervision. She also argued that KKG’s mental limitations required the school district to provide a heightened level of supervision, which it failed to do. The district court disagreed, however, and granted the school district’s motion to dismiss the case.
The court of appeal established the boundaries of school district liability from previous cases. The duty is of reasonable supervision while in actual custody of the children. A 2010 Louisiana Supreme Court case said, “The school board is not the insurer of the safety of the children, and constant supervision of all students is neither possible nor required.”
The case had weaknesses in its evidence. KKG’s testimony was contradictory. At one time, KKG said that he told the assistant principal “that LNG made sexual gestures toward him,” but at another time, KKG said that he did not feel threatened by LNG. Other testimony led to mixed conclusions. KKG’s mother told the Caddo Learning Center principal about disruptions on the school bus, but never attributed them to LNG. She did mention LNG specifically to the bus driver about the problems. LNG has a school disciplinary record of profanity, “willful disobedience, leaving school without permission, and fighting.” There was no indication that LNG would exhibit sexually aggressive behavior. Most importantly, the incident happened after KKG and LNG left the bus at their regular stop and were off school premises. The court of appeal concluded that the school district was not liable.
Similarly, KKG was not a special education student, according to the school district’s Director of Special Education. KKG attended a “remediation program” because of poor math and reading skills. In two years, “KKG made up three grade levels.” His mental capacity and social behavior also would not qualify him for special education services. The court of appeal decided that the school district did not owe KKG a heightened duty of supervision.
School districts have duties to care for the youths under their supervision. School activities, extracurricular activities, and other day-to-day events like transporting students in a school bus, make uncertain where the district’s duty ends. These distinctions are not always easily recognizable. A skilled lawyer will know where to look to determine whether the facts show that the school district may be liable, improving the chances of success in a lawsuit for damages.
If you have been harmed by the acts of another, call the Berniard Law Firm toll free at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with a lawyer who can help you get the recovery you deserve.