COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court this week agreed to hear a case over whether educators were reckless in failing to prevent an injury to a student even though they had been notified she was being bullied by a fellow kindergartner.
The court will consider whether teachers and principals can be sued when a student is bullied under their supervision, The Toledo Blade reported.
In this case, one girl reportedly punctured another girl’s cheek with a pencil at Toledo’s DeVeaux Elementary School several years ago.
A Lucas County court concluded a teacher and two principals were protected from the resulting lawsuit by statutory immunity. But a 2-1 ruling by a state appeals court panel resurrected the lawsuit on the recklessness issue.
State law makes educators immune from liability unless they act with “malicious purpose, in bad faith, or in a wanton or reckless manner.”
The appeals court panel concluded there was some evidence of ongoing verbal and physical abuse in the Toledo case but no sign that attempts were made to keep the two girls apart.
The school employees said they spoke with both students after being told about the teasing and bullying. The teacher said she saw no sign of the injury and didn’t learn about it until days afterward.
Their lawyers argue that unless the court decision is overturned, even diligent educators could face costly litigation that could deter others from staying in that field.
“Educators throughout Ohio will be exposed to liability every time they are made aware of teasing before an altercation occurs, even when they respond diligently and appropriately,” the lawyers contend.
The local teachers union has argued the decision could affect 130,000 teachers throughout Ohio. It urged the high court to hear the case, as did groups including the Ohio Federation of Teachers, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators and the Ohio School Boards Association.
The family of the injured girl didn’t respond to the appeal filings with the Supreme Court.