School Law Classroom
Schools should cooperate with parent-teacher advisory committees to conduct an annual review of their pupil discipline policies.
Schools are a natural breeding ground for bullying and harassment, which cause serious impediments to learning for many students. School districts are liable under school-based anti-bullying legislation for student to student or teacher to student harassment, often without regard to whether the harassment was motivated by discrimination.
Section 10-20.14 of the Illinois School Code requires that school districts establish policies that prohibit bullying by students. That Section also requires school boards to create parent-teacher advisory committees that, in coordination with the school board, are required to: develop policy guidelines on pupil discipline and school searches; furnish copies of the guidelines to parents/guardians of each pupil within fifteen (15) days after the beginning of the school year, inform pupils of the contents of school’s policy; develop procedures to establish and maintain a reciprocal reporting system between the district and law enforcement regarding criminal offenses committed by students; and develop guidelines to establish and maintain school bus safety procedures that are incorporated into the district’s pupil discipline policy. Importantly, the statute encourages school boards, along with the parent-teacher advisory committee, to annually review their pupil discipline policies, the implementation of those policies, and any other factors related to the safety of their schools, pupils, and staff.
Under the anti-bullying legislation, a school district’s liability has the potential to be substantial. A recent Illinois case highlights the possible liabilities under a factual situation common to most schools. In that case, a student was harassed due to his perceived effeminacy. Bullies subjected the student to name calling including but not limited to “gay,” “homo,” “queer,” and “loser.” After the school administration failed to remedy the student’s complaints, constant harassment by bullies lead to the student’s poor academic work to the point where the district classified him as eligible for special education and related services. An evaluation team manager found that the poor academic work was a product of bullying rather than cognitive deficiencies. Subsequently, the parents moved the student to another school and an administrative law judge found that the district was liable to the parents for the out-of-district tuition and related costs. Importantly, the judge found that the District’s lack of a structured disciplinary mechanism led to the harassment suffered by the student.
The increasing attention focused on bullying and harassment in the school setting should prompt school districts to verify that they have developed the required disciplinary mechanisms to address bullying and harassment, as well as created parent-teacher advisory committees. Additionally, those policies should be reviewed annually by the school board and the parent-teacher advisory committees to ensure compliance with the law.
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