Monday, February 1, 2016
Parents of a Long Island teenager indicate that they will sue Valley Stream School District for failing to prevent an attack on their son--an attack that they say was racially motivated. Their son was apparently hospitalized and needed 32 stitches to close a wound on his head. Their attorney said that the student suffered "a concussion, a skull fracture that required an emergency craniotomy; which means they basically had to relieve the pressure and the pain that was building up on top of his brain.” To bolster their claim, they also point out that that their son was attacked two years earlier while at school.
News outlets report that the aggressor plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge in the most recent assault. While the severe injuries and the misdemeanor charge certainly lend sympathy to the parents' claims, these types of lawsuits are notoriously hard to win absent special circumstances. Those circumstances may be present here and the public just is not aware of them, but typically a school is under no duty to "prevent injuries" to students. To sustain a torts claim in most states, a plaintiff would need to show that the district failed to reasonably supervise its students and the bar for reasonable supervision is generally low. Another option may be to raise a Title VI claim regarding a racially hostile environment. This claim also has its drawbacks. The parents would need to show that the district had failed to reasonably respond to racial discrimination of which it had been put on notice. As long as the district took some sort of progressive response to dealing with the problem, the fact that the student was later more seriously injured would not mean the district had acted unreasonably.
In short, until we see an actual complaint, the case is hard to predict, but plaintiffs will certainly need to show more than just an injury to sustain a claim. Legal merits aside, however, the story is troubling.