Kindergarten Teacher Sued in Federal Court???

The most likely person in a school district to be named as a defendant in a lawsuit is the superintendent. The least likely to be sued is the kindergarten teacher. But a kindergarten teacher in Philadelphia has been sued personally. And the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the teacher may be held personally liable for violating a student’s constitutional rights.

This case is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it is one of the few in which a court refuses to grant “qualified immunity” to an educator. For educators, this is the main “takeaway” from today’s post. Secondly, this case endorses the legal theory of “state created danger” as a vehicle for imposing liability on school districts and school officials. This point will be of more interest to the lawyers than the educators, and we will expand on this next Monday.

What happened? The suit alleges that the kindergarten teacher allowed an unauthorized adult to take a five-year old out of class. The adult showed no identification. School policy did not allow this person to take the child out of class. The teacher asked for ID and the adult did not produce any. But the teacher allowed the adult to take the child out of class anyway. The adult sexually assaulted the child later that day. None of these allegations have been proven in court, but this is what the suit alleges. The teacher’s attorney filed a Motion to Dismiss the case, arguing that even if these facts turn out to be true, the teacher is protected by “qualified immunity.”

In its opening paragraph the court notes that teachers are usually protected from personal liability by the doctrine of “qualified immunity.” But the court also noted that “there are exceptions and this is one of those cases.” Here is the Key Quote:

We hold that the parent’s allegations sufficiently state a constitutional violation of the young child’s clearly established right to be free from exposure by her teacher to an obvious danger. In short, we conclude that it is shocking to the conscience that a kindergarten teacher would allow a child in his care to leave his classroom with a complete stranger.

It would be a good idea to double down on staff training on this issue. Let’s not let kids walk off with someone who is not authorized to take them.

The case is L.R. v School District of Philadelphia, decided by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals on September 6, 2016.


File this one under: LIABILITY

Tomorrow: When will this miserable football season end????