One of educators most important obligations is to provide a reasonable standard of care for all students (Mawdsley, 1993). School districts should take actions to make certain that administrators, special and general education teachers, and other personnel are aware of their care and supervisory duties under the law (Daggett, 1995; Freedman, 1995; Mawdsley, 1993). The following are suggestions to assist administrators and teachers in meeting these responsibilities:

• School districts should develop policies regarding standards of care and supervision. These policies should be in writing. Because this area of law changes rapidly, legal developments should be monitored, and school policies should be updated when necessary. Additionally, tort laws vary by state. It is extremely important, therefore, that prior to developing policies, school district officials should understand tort laws in their states.

• The IEP team should address potential safety risks and plan for them when appropriate. The IEP should include actions that will be taken to minimize these risks. If a precaution is listed in the IEP, it is convincing evidence that a school district has taken precautions to prevent student injury. If, on the other hand, procedures listed in the IEP are not followed and an injury results, the school’s negligence can more easily be proven (Daggett, 1995). In addition to members of the IEP team, general education teachers and other personnel (e.g., paraprofessionals) involved with a student should be aware of any safety issues, potential problems, or required supervisory issues.

• Preventive training. Special education and general education teachers, as well as administrators and other staff, should be trained in their responsibilities under the law. Training may be important in convincing a court that a school district acted with care and good faith. Moreover, appropriate training will help to ensure the safety of all students, teachers, and staff. Such training should stress supervisory responsibilities especially in activities which could foreseeably result in an accident or injury to a student. Preventive training should be conducted with all teachers and support staff such as paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, lunchroom supervisors, and bus drivers.

• Don’t rely on waivers. Educators sometimes assume that teachers and schools can release themselves from damages by having parents sign waivers or releases. This is untrue because parents cannot waive their children’s claim for damages (Fischer et al., 1994; Freedman, 1995; McCarthy & Cambron-McCabe, 1992). Teachers always have a duty to their students to prevent foreseeable injury by providing appropriate supervision. Parental releases, waivers, or permission slips do not relieve teachers or schools of liability if they fail to discharge their duties in an appropriate manner. According to Fischer et al. (1994), such waivers may be useful for public relations purposes, but will not relieve teachers or school officials of possible liability for negligence.

• Keep thorough records. The importance of record keeping cannot be stressed too much. Anecdotal records can be crucial in liability cases. Whenever possible, records should include the signatures of witnesses. Table 2 is a example of a behavior incident record. Administration, supervisory personnel, and parents should be notified of any situations that could result in liability claims.

Next Section - Previous Section

Online Discussion - Back to Author Online Page