Can a School Be Liable For Failure to Address a Bullying Situation?

A School, Including Staff Such As Teachers and Principals, Has a Legal Duty to Address a Bullying Situation. The School Must Handle the Situation As a Careful or Prudent Parent Would.

Understanding the Legal Responsibility of Schools and Teachers to Adequately Address Bullying Situations

Bullying By Classmates Bullying comes in a variety of forms.  Bullying can lead to depression, loss of esteem, and even to suicide, among victims.  Accordingly, bullying involves very serious concerns that can cause a lifetime issues that warrant proper attention, and deservedly so.

The Law

School boards may be liable for failure to properly address bullying concerns whereas a school board is required to provide care similar to that of a, "...  the careful or prudent parent"; Myers v. Peel (County) Board of Education, [1981] 2 S.C.R. 21 at page 31; Karam v. Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, [2014] O.J.  No.  2966 at paragraph 37.  Explicitly, it was said in Patrick v. St. Clair Catholic District School Board, 2013 ONSC 4025 at paragraph 200 that:

"… boards of education and their staff owe a duty of care to students, both in the school and on the schoolyard during official school hours.  … The standard of care is recognized to be that of a prudent and reasonable parent."

As stated above, schools and staff are required to provide a standard of care towards students in a manner that is similar to that which would be provided by a prudent and reasonable parent.  With this said, more was explained within the case of Lee v. Toronto District School Board, et al., 2013 ONSC 3085 whereas it was said:

[56]  The parties agree on the general standard of care applicable to school boards and staff members. I adopt the statement of Ducharme J. in Rollins[20]:  “[At] common law, and under the Education Act, the standard of care to be exercised by school authorities in providing for the supervision and protection of students is that of the careful or prudent parent.

[57]  These words apply with necessary modifications in these circumstances, where the alleged negligence is in the failure to provide adequate supervision, a duty that is referred to in legislation.  Under section 265(1)(a) of the Education Act, the principal has the duty to: “to maintain proper order and discipline in the school.”  Section 11(e) of regulation 298 requires the principal: “to provide for the supervision of pupils during the period of time during each school day when the school buildings and playgrounds are open to pupils.”  Teachers have the correlative duty, under section 264(1)(e) of the Education Act: “to maintain, under the direction of the principal, proper order and discipline in the teacher’s classroom and while on duty in the school and on the school ground.”  Section 20(b) of regulation 298 requires a teacher to: “carry out the supervisory duties and instructional program assigned to the teacher by the principal and supply such information related thereto as the principal may require.

[58]  These general supervision duties are context-specific, as the Supreme Court noted in Myers:

[The prudent parent standard] is not, however, a standard which can be applied in the same manner and to the same extent in every case.  Its application will vary from case to case and will depend upon the number of students being supervised at any given time, the nature of the exercise or activity in progress, the age and the degree of skill and training which the students may have received in connection with such activity, the nature and condition of the equipment in use at the time, the competency and capacity of the students involved, and a host of other matters which may be widely varied but which, in a given case, may affect the application of the prudent parent-standard to the conduct of the school authority in the circumstances.[21]

While legal representatives such as paralegals can help advocate for liability against schools, among others, parents should also seek the assistance of esteem support groups.  In addition to potential claims for negligent supervision against school boards, other legal issues may exist.

Summary Comment

A school, including the principal and teachers, have a duty to act in the effort to prohibit and prevent bullying within schools.  Where a school, including faculty members, fail to act properly, liability may result.

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Bullying at Schools

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