OSBA’s legal assistance fund (LAF) supports school districts that are defending legal challenges with the potential to affect public schools statewide. Recently, the LAF board of trustees voted to approve amicus briefs in support of school districts in two cases: Wilson v. McCormack and I.B. et al. v. Olentangy Local School Dist.
Wilson v. McCormack
This case involves the issue of whether the Jefferson Area Local School District Board of Education enjoys immunity of suit with respect to its employment of a non-teacher as assistant girls’ basketball coach. A 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 Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas held that because providing a sports team is not required by law, it is a proprietary function of the school district and therefore the school district was not statutorily immune for the negligence of its employees in connection with providing a sports team. The Eleventh District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s holding, finding that providing a sports team is a governmental function and therefore the board of education was immune. In early August, the former students filed an Interlocutory Appeal to the Supreme Court of Ohio.
The Supreme Court of Ohio has yet to accept jurisdiction. On Sept. 7, 2017, an amici curiae brief was submitted on behalf of OSBA and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators in support of the board of education’s argument that a school district’s provision of sports teams is a governmental function that triggers political subdivision immunity and as a result, the Supreme Court of Ohio should decline jurisdiction. You can follow this case by subscribing to updates at the Supreme Court of Ohio’s public docket.
I.B. et al. v. Olentangy Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn.
Matthew Rausenberg taught second and third grade in the Olentangy Local School District. In 2016, he was convicted of 34 counts of gross sexual imposition for molesting nine students at school. He was sentenced to a term of 176 years’ imprisonment. Plaintiffs allege in their lawsuit that they reported abuse to their principals and that no action was taken by the District. The District denied these allegations and submitted that no Plaintiff reported abuse at any time.
The families of three of the nine students Rausenberg molested, filed claims in federal court against the district, the board of education and several district administrators. The board of education moved to dismiss the claims against it, claiming statutory sovereign immunity. The families filed their motion in the U.S. District Court. The trial court certified the question of whether Ohio Revised Code (RC) 2151.421 expressly imposes civil liability on a school board, either for its own or its employees’ failure to report, triggering the RC 2744.02 exception to political subdivision immunity on a negligence per se claim based on RC 2151.421 to the Supreme Court of Ohio.
On Sept. 7, 2017, an amicus brief was submitted on behalf of OSBA supporting the board of education and arguing that RC 2151.421 does not expressly impose civil liability on a school board itself for failure to report, nor does it impose vicarious liability on a school board for its employee’s failure to report.
If you have questions about these cases or you’d like to discuss potential LAF assistance for your district, please contact OSBA’s division of legal services. More information about the LAF and an application to join or request assistance is available here.