On Feb. 28, 2018, the Supreme Court of Ohio declined to accept jurisdiction on an appeal in the case of Wilson v. McCormack. This announcement lets stand an Eleventh District Court of Appeals decision in favor of the Jefferson Area Local School District, holding that providing a sports team is a governmental function and therefore, the board of education is statutorily immune for a coach’s negligence while acting in that role.
The case began when the district employed a non-teacher as its assistant girls’ basketball coach. The 28-year coach, Donald McCormack, was convicted of attempted child endangering and two counts of sexual imposition, based on charges raised by two of his former student players. The former student players then initiated a suit against the school district board of education for negligently hiring, supervising and employing McCormack as a coach.
The common pleas court found in favor of the former students, holding that because providing a sports team is not required by law, it is a proprietary function of the school district, and as a result does not afford the district statutory immunity for the negligence of its employees in connection with providing a sports team. On appeal, the Eleventh District Court of Appeals reversed, finding providing a sports team is a governmental function, which affords the board of education immunity from liability.
In Sept. 2017, OSBA’s LAF submitted an amici curiae brief on behalf of OSBA and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators in support of the school district. The brief emphasized that courts in Ohio uniformly have regarded providing school sports, as well as other extracurricular activities, as a governmental function that triggers political subdivision immunity. The amici curiae brief urged the Supreme Court of Ohio to decline jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Ohio’s ruling declining jurisdiction is a favorable reinforcement for all schools that sponsor extracurricular activities.
OSBA’s LAF supports school districts defending legal challenges with the potential to affect public schools statewide. If you have questions about this case or you’d like to discuss potential LAF assistance for your district, please contact OSBA’s division of legal services. More information about LAF and an application to join or request assistance is available at: https://www.ohioschoolboards.org/legal-assistance-fund.