Legal Options for Special Needs Children Abused in California Schools
When you send your child off to school, you trust that administration and staff will uphold their duties to ensure safety of all students while on school grounds. This obligation does not change when the student is a child with special needs, but it is understandable that you have concerns as a parent. An April 2020 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report to Congress shows that your apprehension is justified. This investigation into treatment of special needs children in public schools revealed high rates of misconduct in districts that serve a disproportionately large number of disabled students.
It is unthinkable that your child could suffer abuse at school, but you should be aware that there are options for addressing mistreatment. An Oakland personal injury lawyer can explain the relevant legal concepts in more detail, but you might benefit from reviewing some general information about abuse of special needs children in the educational environment.
Your Child is Protected by Federal Law: Through the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq., public schools are required to provide appropriate public education to children who have disabilities that impact their learning. This act also requires that these schools must develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each covered student. Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., public and private schools that receive federal funding cannot discriminate against children with disabilities. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., public and most private schools cannot discriminate against children with disabilities. These laws work together to protect your child.
Legal Basis for Liability in School Abuse Cases: California courts have held that officials are required to supervise all students while on school grounds or participating in school-related activities. However, there is a heightened duty as it pertains to children with special needs. Kids on the autism spectrum, ADHD, or other medical conditions can find the world chaotic and threatening, which can lead them to act in ways that untrained teachers and staff may not understand, leading to inappropriate reactions. Their special needs can also make them the target of bullying and violence by other students. Schools fail to uphold their duty to special needs children mainly through two areas of negligence: negligent training and negligent supervision.
- Negligent Training: Negligent training has to do with the training that the school gives to the teachers and staff. Schools with special needs students are required to train their staff on the challenges these students face, and make sure that the staff are interacting with students in an appropriate and professional manner. Oftentimes, it is a lack of training which leads to a teacher’s inappropriate response to the actions of a special needs child.
- Negligent Supervision: Negligent supervision means that the school failed to properly supervise all the students on school grounds, enforcing rules and regulations for the students’ protection. In one such case, Daily v. Los Angeles Unified School District, 2 Cal.3d 741, the Court held that a teacher, and therefore the school, failed in his duty to supervise his students when he ate lunch instead of watching the students on school grounds. A fight broke out between the students, and a student was killed. Even through the student was killed by another student, the lack of supervision made the school liable.
- Schools are liable if they knew or had reason to know that a teacher or staff assaulted a child and failed to act.
- Schools are liable in situations of abuse or sexual abuse by another student. Under Cal. Penal Code 11166(c), teachers and schools have a mandatory duty to report inappropriate sexual conduct to the police or county welfare department.
- Schools are also liable for assault on their students by a third party, whether that party is a student or not. However, the injury must have been foreseeable. This is because it is the school’s responsibility to provide a safe and healthy learning environment, coupled with the fact that there are requirements to attend schools and the amount of control schools have over their students.
What to Do If You Suspect Abuse: As a parent, one of the most impactful ways to protect your child is recognizing the warning signs. Keep an eye out for unexplained injuries, aggression or regression, changes in performance at school, and mood swings. It is also essential to report your concerns and/or findings to school and government officials. One of the best tools that you have is to be in open communication with the teachers and staff at your child’s school.
Unfortunately, even when parents do everything right, sometimes your child can still be a victim of abuse at school. In such cases, your best course of action may be to enforce your child’s rights through the courts. Such a case may allow for an injunction when necessary as well as monetary damages for the losses resulting from negligence and misconduct by school officials. You may have a claim under negligent supervision/training where your child was:
- Mistreated or assaulted by a teacher or aide;
- Assaulted by another student due to a lack of supervision; or
- Harmed by a third party that was present on school grounds.
Learn More by Consulting with an Oakland Personal Injury Attorney
California schools have a legal duty to protect all students, so they can be held accountable for failure to supervise, safeguard, and monitor children with special needs. If you have concerns about wrongdoing and mistreatment, please contact Venardi Zurada, LLP to set up a no-cost consultation with a member of our team. Our lawyers can meet with you at our offices to discuss details.
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