The process to sue a school district can vary from school district to school district. In general, the first step requires you to know whether the school district and/or school you are suing is a public or private school. It is extremely important to identify this factor at the beginning of the process, or else you may be wasting valuable time and resources. This is because there are different procedures for suing a public school district versus suing a private school district.
There are many reasons as to why a person would want to sue a school district. To be a valid action, however, the lawsuit must concern certain legal issues, such as discrimination, sexual harassment, and willful or intentional negligence. Some claims may not suffice to bring a lawsuit against a school.
An example of when it may be possible to sue a school district is when a school district or specific school engages in discriminatory practices either when hiring job candidates or accepting students for admission. In both cases, it is illegal to deny a candidate a job or a student admission to a school solely based on their race, national origin, sex, gender, religion, and so on. It is also highly illegal to deny a student a right to education for invalid reasons.
To learn more about how to sue a school district or a particular school, you should contact a local government attorney immediately for further legal guidance. A lawyer will be able to provide legal advice that is relevant to both your issue as well as is tailored to the laws and procedures for suing a school district in your state.
To Sue a School District, You Need to Identify Your “Cause of Action”
One of the most important steps in suing a school district is determining the cause of action. A “cause of action” is a legal term that refers to the set of facts that establish the grounds to justify bringing a lawsuit. Basically, if a plaintiff can demonstrate that a certain set of facts would allow them to seek redress against another party (e.g., money, property, etc.), then those facts would be the cause of action that would entitle them to sue.
Some common examples of different types of causes of action that are the basis of many school district lawsuits include:
- Sexual harassment and misconduct: A claim involving sexual harassment and/or misconduct may involve verbal or physical acts that are sexual in nature. While such causes of action in a school district lawsuit will normally be between a teacher and a student, it is possible for this cause of action to arise in a case involving faculty members (e.g., a teacher suing a vice principal for sexual harassment).
- Child abuse: In some instances, a sexual harassment claim may extend to a cause of action for child abuse. This can happen when a school district is aware that a student is being sexually harassed, abused, and/or bullied by another student or teacher and fails to alert the proper authorities or to prevent it from recurrence.
- Discrimination: A cause of action for discrimination can arise when a school district employs “selective admission” practices. This might mean that a school is either denying or accepting certain students for entry based on a category that is protected by constitutional and federal law, such as gender, race, national origin, religious beliefs, and so forth. A school district is also not permitted to give preferential treatment to students based on any of these categories.
- Employment: There are some causes of action that may involve a teacher or other faculty member suing a school district. For example, a teacher may sue a school district for wrongful termination, workers’ compensation, and/or claims relating to wage and hour issues.
- Disabilities and special education programs: School districts must comply with strict regulations concerning students with disabilities. Specifically, schools must establish special education programs. If a particular school or an entire school district fails to satisfy these conditions, then a student will have a right to file a lawsuit under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
- Various causes of action: There are also causes of action that focus on improper expulsion of a student, failure to return personal property that belongs to a student within a specified time frame, personal injury actions that involve school employees, and several other issues that may come up in relation to a school or school district.
One major cause of action that arises in numerous school district lawsuits is a claim for negligence. When suing a school district for negligence, the main focus will be on whether a student’s injury was foreseeable or not.
For example, if a school knew that a particular student was constantly being harassed or bullied by another student and the school did nothing to stop it from happening, then the school can be held liable for any injuries the student receives in connection to the situation.
Important Step to Sue a School: File an Administrative Complaint Before You File a Lawsuit Against the School
Each school district has a special process that a plaintiff will be required to adhere to before they can file a lawsuit against the district or a particular school in court. Although these procedures can vary widely from school district to school district, the general process often requires filing an administrative complaint and exhausting all other administrative remedies first.
An administrative complaint is a document that gets submitted to a government agency in the state where the school district is located. In most cases, this is usually the state’s department of education. The complaint will contain information, such as which law the plaintiff believes was violated, a statement of facts, additional documentation that supports the complaint, and the plaintiff’s recommendation for resolving the issue in question.
A representative at the agency will then review the complaint and investigate the plaintiff’s claim for some amount of time. They may also request further evidence from the plaintiff during the investigation period. It usually takes around 60 days to complete the entire investigation. In cases where a local agency handled the issue, the plaintiff can contact a state’s department of education to investigate the matter even further.
Once all administrative remedies have been exhausted and the plaintiff is permitted to file a lawsuit in court, they must send a letter that notifies the school of their intent to sue. Remember, public schools cannot be sued for simple negligence. They must be sued for willful or intentional negligence and the claim must be for something that is in fact illegal (e.g., discrimination).
Is the Process the Same for Suing a Private School District?
The process for suing a private school district is not the same as the one for suing a public school district. The primary reason for this is because public schools are considered to be government entities, whereas private schools are businesses that are owned and operated by corporate shareholders and/or private individuals. Thus, a private school can be sued without having to file an administrative complaint.
In general, this also means that it is usually much easier to file a lawsuit against a private school district than it is to sue a public school district. A public school will normally be protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, while a private school will not.
Briefly, sovereign immunity shields the government from certain types of lawsuits. So, if a public school is recognized as a government entity, then this means it enjoys the privileges provided by this doctrine.
Another difference between suing a private school district versus suing a public one is that filing a claim against a private school district only requires following the standard steps of a regular lawsuit. In contrast, bringing a lawsuit against a public school district necessitates complying with very strict legal procedures that can vary widely by state.
One last important detail that is different when suing a private school district is that unlike filing a lawsuit against a public school district, the plaintiff has the option to sue a private school’s insurance company instead.
As for similarities between the two processes, once a plaintiff in a public school district lawsuit has exhausted all administrative remedies and has reached the point of filing a claim in court, the remaining portion of the case should proceed much like a lawsuit against a private school district (i.e., a standard lawsuit). Additionally, both types of school districts can be sued for many of the same causes of action and both still owe the same duty of care to its students.
Do I Need an Attorney If I Want to Sue a School District?
In sum, there are several reasons as to why suing a school district is no easy feat. For one, school district lawsuits are mainly based on the facts of a specific case and the laws of the jurisdiction in which a school district is situated. This means that the outcomes of these types of cases are often difficult to predict without the help of an attorney to sue a school district.
Secondly, even if a student is injured during the school day or while on school property, this factor does not necessarily mean that a school can be held liable for their injuries. There are also strict legal procedures that must be complied with, such as filing an administrative complaint, before you can sue a school district.
Therefore, if you intend to file a lawsuit against a school district, then it may be in your best interest to hire a local government attorney before you take any further action. An experienced government attorney can review the facts of your case and can determine if you have a viable claim. Your attorney can also ensure that you have followed all of the proper administrative procedures first, so that your case is not automatically dismissed.
In addition, your attorney can advise you on the best way to seek legal recourse based on the issue at hand and can explain the possible remedies you may be able to recover if your action is successful. Your attorney will also be able to assist you in drafting and filing all legal documents that are related to your claim and can provide legal representation in court.
Finally, if you have any questions or concerns during the ongoing matter, your attorney will be able to address them or can point you towards the right resource to handle those questions and/or concerns.