Superintendents are focused on education and keeping students safe.
To do that, they need to create an environment that protects students, families, and staff. This requires understanding school district liability—which is increasingly important in today’s sociopolitical environment where student safety and well-being is front and center in people’s hearts and minds.
How Districts Can Minimize Potential Liabilities
Districts across the country need to beware of and take proactive steps to prevent things like cyberbullying, sexual harassment, school shootings, and old-fashioned bullying, which affects 20 percent of students between the ages of 12 and 18, according to U.S. government data.
That starts with understanding potential school district liabilities. The more you understand these liabilities, the easier it will be to prepare for them and create a great learning environment.
With the right approach, you can minimize potential liabilities as much as possible, creating better educational experiences and delivering more value to taxpayers along the way.
For example, by using an online forms platform, you should be able to produce an accessible, digital, time-stamped “paper” trail that proves evidence of statuses, data, or updates in complicated situations. This data will prove, without a doubt, that your district acted when it needed to or was in compliance with relevant regulations for the issue at hand.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at six things your district should prepare for in 2020.
1. The Differences Between State and Federal Laws and Regulations
Due to the Tenth Amendment, powers that aren’t explicitly granted to the federal government are reserved for the states. Because of this, state and local governments tend to play a larger role in shaping educational policies.
Still, the feds have a number of policies that apply to all schools, such as ensuring equal access to education and protecting students’ and teachers’ constitutional rights. The federal government also earmarks some money for schools that follow specific guidelines, such as No Child Left Behind and, more recently, the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Beyond that, though, educational policy tends to vary on a state-by-state and district-by-district basis. It is therefore critical to do your research to make certain you know which laws and regulations apply to your district—and which don’t. Failure to comply with laws can result in negative legal action.
2. The “Student Bill of Rights”
Although the federal government doesn’t directly set educational policy, it does have a pretty strong indirect influence. Withholding federal dollars is a pretty easy way to ensure compliance.
Because of this, it’s important that you understand the “student bill of rights.” Students—including children of immigrants—have the right to a free education, the right to learn English, the right not to be discriminated against, the right to freedom of speech, the right to be safe in school, and more.
3. Liabilities for Student Safety
School liabilities vary considerably across the country. At the same time, states share a lot of things in common. For example, 43 states require schools to have a safety plan in their policies.
Do your research to see how your district might be impacted by things like bullying, school shootings, and injuries on premises. Although you may not be able to do anything to prevent these kinds of incidents, you can put a solid plan in place that ensures you can rapidly respond to anything that happens.
A good place to start is by asking colleagues in other districts what they do to ensure students are safe. Ask enough people and you can identify trends to incorporate into your own district. You’ll also want to identify key stakeholders and form a committee to define priorities, requirements, and what success looks like so you know what the desired outcome looks like.
4. Liabilities for Sexual Abuse
More and more insurance companies are no longer offering districts coverage for cases where a staffer sexually abuses a student. In large part, this is because juries are awarding more and more money to victims.
Some insurers still offer this kind of coverage. But for districts, associated premiums and deductibles are increasing.
Of course, you can’t control the actions of the teachers and staffers in your district, but you can be as thorough as possible during your hiring processes to do the best you can to avoid hiring the wrong people.
5. Liabilities for Special Education
All U.S. students are entitled to an education, even if they have special needs or learning disabilities. So although special education may be expensive—it often requires a one-to-one teacher-to-student ratio—failure to provide quality education to a special needs student can be prohibitively expensive in the long run in the event of litigation.
6. Liabilities for Student Health
School districts can be legally liable for student injuries—even if a district employee wasn’t at fault for causing it. For example, if a student throws a rock at another student and injures them, the district may be liable because no one was supervising the children or the field wasn’t cleaned up.
Your district needs to do everything it can to reduce the chances that a student suffers a medical mishap when they’re at school. One way districts are preparing for this is by moving forms online. That way, the district can ensure that every student’s health information is always a few clicks away.
To illustrate, imagine a student has a peanut allergy and they start getting sick. Once an administrator sees what’s going on, they can access the system from any connected device and immediately pull up that student’s health record. After learning that the student has a peanut allergy, they could administer an EpiPen. Crisis averted.
Managing School District Liability Is a Tricky Juggling Act!
Even if you’re aware of every potential liability your district faces, managing it all is a tricky endeavor. Much of it is outside your control, after all. You can’t always stop a kid from bullying another kid — there is no such thing as foolproof supervision of children.
However, with the right tools and policies in place, you can reduce liability by responding to incidents rapidly and thoroughly. For example, tools like FinalForms can help you protect yourself against liabilities while giving you more control over certain aspects of operations, such as athletics, academics, and personnel.
Schedule a demo of FinalForms today to find out how your district can boost compliance and safety while reducing risk.