“Who is responsible when my child is hurt at school?”
School Board not liable
A British Columbia school district recently benefitted from a favourable ruling in a case against a former student. In October 2006 the student, Tylor Jackson, was the victim of a terrible assault from another student, Makwalla Hall. The two boys were grade nine students at the time. Makwalla punched Tylor in the head, causing him to fall backwards and hit his head on a window. Tylor suffered from a traumatic brain injury and is permanently mentally and physically disadvantaged.
Should schools be responsible for schoolyard assaults?
In the case of Tylor, the question was whether the BC school board did something (or failed to do something) that should require the Board to bear responsibility for Makwalla’s actions?
Negligence of the school board?
Tylor, through the help of his litigation guardian, brought a suit against the school board alleging negligence. He hoped to establish that the school board should be held liable for the assault.
The premise for Tylor’s argument was the school board’s response to an incident between Makwalla and another student which occurred seven (7) months prior.
Makwalla had reportedly punched another student for spilling juice on him. As a result of that incident, Makwalla was given a one-half day ‘in-school’ suspension and a letter to his parent. Tylor argued that this light sentence did not have the desired rehabilitative and deterrent effects. It was argued that if a more appropriate sentence was issued, then Makwalla would likely not have assaulted Tylor seven months later.
In its analysis the Court considered the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in a 1982 case, Myers v. Peel Board of Education, which says that the standard of care required of a school board:
“…is that of a careful and prudent parent… who will not expose his or her child to an unreasonable risk of foreseeable harm.”
Ultimately the Court in Tylor’s case found that there was not enough to connect the school’s inaction in the previous assault to the assault against Tylor. In coming to this conclusion, the Court notes that seven uneventful months passed between the incidents.
Bullying a problem
I believe it is clear that bullying and other violence has become an increasing problem in our schools. What is not clear is what the appropriate response should be to the problem.
Policies and programs differ between schools, school boards, and provinces. Without a national, coordinated approach these types of claims are going to be determined on a case by case basis depending on the facts of each case and similar cases are going to end up with different results.
What do you think about the Court’s decision in Tylor’s case? Should school boards be liable for the wrongdoings of students?
What if the school did not take appropriate disciplinary measures against the offending student on previous occasions?
What are “appropriate” disciplinary measures?
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.