In the case of Sylvia v. Rivera, school officials, including, among others, school superintendent, football coaches, and school principal, moved to strike several counts of a student’s complaint which alleged that the student was taunted, assaulted, and injured by the school’s football players. The complaint further alleged that the school officials knew of the taunting and did nothing to curb or prevent the harassment.
The student was a special education high school student who joined the high school football team. The student’s complaint alleged that several other students taunted, harassed, and threatened the special education student, and that both the high school officials and the parents of these students knew of the behavior of the football players. The complaint alleged that none of the school officials took any action whatsoever in response to the complaints of the student, whom was finally attacked in a hallway of the school and injured. The injured student filed suit, and the school officials moved to dismiss several counts of the complaint. The trial court found that the “state created danger exception”, as applied through the “deliberate indifference standard”, would be sufficient, to permit a viable Federal Public Health and Welfare claim against the school officials. In law, the “state created danger exception” occurs when a state official, for example, inflicts or encourages or incites the danger or the conditions causing the danger. As a matter of law, and in response to increasing school violence, school superintendents, principals and other supervisory personnel have a responsibility to formulate effective procedures to receive complaints where student on student threats and violence known to be occurring. It is prudent to establish guidelines which set forth how various school programs including athletic programs should be conducted. Principals, vice-principals and athletic directors have the responsibility in some situations to formulate those guidelines but also to implement policies established at a higher level in the school bureaucracy.
The trial court found that because there was certainly a viable claim against the two high school football coaches, who actually encouraged the harassment, the motion to dismiss had to be denied in whole. “The complaint here in effect alleges that all the supervisory personnel knew of the violent propensities of [the football team]. The student’s mother complained to [the school] about the threats and violence directed against her son by [the football team] five days before the actual assault and goes on to allege that Mr. Little took no action in regard to these complaints” said the court. “The day of the assault, the plaintiff and his mother met with the vice-principal, Birch, and informed her of the ongoing threats and violence and the fact that no action had been taken to address the problem.”
This case was not handled by our firm. However, if you have any questions regarding this case, or any education matter, please contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.
If you have a child with a disability and have questions about special education law, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq., at 203-221-3100, or at JMaya@mayalaw.com, to schedule a free consultation.
Source: Sylvia v. Rivera, 2001 Conn. Super. LEXIS 795, 2001 WL 359215 (Conn. Super. Ct. Mar. 14, 2001)
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