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Monday, September 23, 2013

School District Not Liable for Bullying

A student and the student's mother sued the Urbana School District No. 116 for violations of state statute, fraud, retaliation, and emotional distress, claiming that the District failed to respond to bullying incidents against the student.  Hascall v. Williams, 2013 IL App  (4th) 121131 (September 18, 2013).  The mother had contacted the District to request that her daughter be reassigned because of alleged bullying involving her classmates.  The District did not reassign the student, and the mother claims that the bullying continued, including incidents where the other classmates slapped a book in the student's hands, kicked open a restroom stall door, and threatening to kill her.  The mother contacted the police, and requested a meeting with the school superintendent, who declined to meet.  The lawsuit was filed shortly thereafter.
The trial court judge granted the School District's motion to dismiss the complaint, finding that the School District and individual defendants were immune from liability under Section 2-201 and 2-109 of the Tort Immunity Act.  On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the complaint, finding that the District and individual defendants were immune from liability as their acts or omissions were discretionary acts and policy determinations.  The District had a policy on bullying in compliance with the School Code.  That policy directs the superintendent and principals to implement and maintain a program to enforce the bullying policy.  How the policy is enforced and programs implemented is within the discretion of the superintendent through the individual school principals. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the defendants' conduct fell under a "willful and wanton misconduct" exception to immunity, finding that no such exception exists in the applicable statutes.  Finally, the court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the District had a "special duty" to the student. 


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