Is a school liable for the bullying activities of students where there is no evidence that school employees instigated, created, or increased the bullying experienced by a student? The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said no in a recent case D.S. v. East Porter County Sch. Corp, (7th Cir. August 24, 2015).
D.S. was a middle school student who claimed that she was the victim of bullying by fellow students from third through seventh grades. She alleges that students threw basketballs at her head, wrote "I hope you die" on her school planner, and called her fat. She also claims that her gym teacher forced her to participate in gym class, and her basketball coaches told her she wasn't good at basketball. D.S. parents confronted the alleged bullies, and were banned from school property for one year. D.S. decided not to stay at the school, and tried to enroll in a neighboring district, but was denied enrollment. Shortly thereafter, D.S. sued the East Porter school district and the neighboring school district under the Civil Rights Act, claiming that D.S. constitutional rights to due process and equal protection had been violated. Specifically, D.S. claimed that the district created or substantially contributed to the creation of a danger by not protecting D.S. from her fellow students.
The Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court that D.S. did not show that her teachers and coaches participated in the bullying incidents and, therefore, were not liable to D.S. The court first noted that school officials do not have an affirmative duty to protect students, and second that inaction of school officials does not rise to the level of a "state-created danger" required to prove D.S.' case against the school district.
The Seventh Circuit also agreed with the district court that D.S. failed to prove her equal protection claims against the neighboring school district because she did not establish that she was intentionally treated differently from others when the district refused to allow her to enroll.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf