Last week, the Supreme Court of Ohio issued a decision in one of the cases supported by the Ohio School Boards Association Legal Assistance Fund (LAF). The case, A.J.R. v. Lute, involved a claim by parents of a kindergartner that school district employees were not entitled to immunity because they acted with a "perverse disregard of a known risk" resulting in an injury to their daughter. The supreme court overturned the court of appeals’ decision and concluded that immunity applied to the employees.
The parents in the case sued three district employees, alleging that their 4-year-old daughter, A.R., had been subjected to a pattern of bullying by her 5-year-old classmate, S. The bullying culminated in what the court referred to as the "alleged pencil incident," in which S. punctured A.R.'s cheek with a pencil. The parents claimed that three school district employees, A.R.'s classroom teacher, and the principal and assistant principal in her building, were told of the previous bullying incidents and failed to protect A.R. from S., who was a known risk.
The trial court had dismissed the claim against the school employees, concluding that they were entitled to immunity under Ohio law. Immunity would not apply if the employees were reckless, or acted or failed to act with a conscious disregard or indifference to a known or obvious risk. The court found that there was no evidence that S. had a history of harming other students or staff and no way to demonstrate the educators disregarded or were indifferent to any known risks. A.R.’s parents appealed the decision.
The appeals court overturned the trial court's decision, concluding that there was a genuine issue of material fact requiring further proceedings at the trial court level to determine whether the staff members were reckless. The educators appealed and LAF, along with the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, Ohio Association of School Business Officials, and Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel, prepared an amici brief supporting immunity for the district employees.
The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the employees in this situation were not reckless, did not act with a perverse disregard of a known risk, and were entitled to immunity as a result. It concluded that there was no evidence that the educators should have been aware that S. would physically harm A.R. in the alleged pencil incident. Further, even if they had been aware, the employees did not disregard any risk. All three took time to address the class to curtail bullying and communicated with A.R. to ensure she was not experiencing any bullying.
The court's decision reinstated the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the district employees. This ends the case against them.
Is your district involved in a case of statewide importance? The LAF may be able to assist. Here’s more information about LAF. If you have any other questions, please contact the legal division for assistance: (855) 672-2529 or (855) OSBA-LAW.