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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

School District Not Liable for Student Bullying Claims

Two sisters and their parents sued Consolidated School District 230 alleging breach of contract and tort claims related to the conduct of the sisters’ basketball teammates. Mulvey v. Carl Sandberg High School et al, 2016 IL App (1st) 151615 (October 28, 2016). The complaint alleged that the sisters were ignored, harassed, humiliated, physically assaulted, injured and intimidated by their teammates and that the District failed to take proper action, including enforcing its anti-bullying policies.

The breach of contract claims concentrated on the anti-bullying policies the District incorporated into its student handbook and athletic handbook in response to the Illinois Bullying Prevention Statute, 105 ILCS 5/27-23.7. The sisters alleged that the handbooks formed a contract with the District and that the District breached the contract when it failed to rectify the conditions that resulted in bullying, intimidation, and harassment. The District argued that, as a matter of law, public school handbooks cannot form the basis of a contract. The circuit court agreed and dismissed the claims.

The sisters' tort claim alleged that the District acted with utter indifference and reckless disregard regarding the bullying conduct. The District moved to dismiss that claim on the basis of discretionary immunity and the one-year statute of limitations under the Tort Immunity Act. The circuit court again agreed and found that the District was immune and the claim was time barred.

On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the dismissal of all claims. For the contract claims, the appellate court focused on the elements needed to form a valid contract – offer, acceptance, and consideration. The court explained that public school student handbooks cannot form the basis of a contract because the handbook provisions are not specific enough to constitute an offer and student attendance and the payment of taxes are not valid consideration. For the willful and wanton conduct (tort) claim, the appellate court cited two other school bullying cases, Malinski and Hascall, and found that the implementation of an anti-bullying policy is discretionary and, as a result, the District was immune under the Tort Immunity Act.

Post Authored by Caitlyn Sharrow, Ancel Glink

Disclosure: Ancel Glink represented the Defendants in this case. 


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