Schools have a duty to adequately supervise students, but are not insurers of student safety. A school will only be held liable for injuries intentionally inflicted by another student where it is established that the dangerous conduct could have been reasonably anticipated.
Following this rationale, in Conklin v. Saugerties Central School the Third Department dismissed a claim for negligent supervision. There, plaintiff’s father discovered comments on his daughters MySpace account indicating that another student, Edwards, intended to fight her. The next day, the school’s social worker met with the girls, and both denied any intention to engage in a physical altercation. School officials also met Edwards to discuss the disciplinary implications of fighting. Edwards told the school she had no intention of fighting and had made no threats to do so. Later, Edwards pulled plaintiff to the ground by her hair and repeatedly punched her in the head. Notwithstanding the prior notice of the attack, the Appellate Division found that the school reasonably responded to the rumor of a threat, determined it was unfounded and could not have anticipated the assault. The court also noted that Edwards’s disciplinary file showed no history of fighting or violence. Finally, the court found that the MySpace post was merely a rumor rather than a direct threat. Accordingly, the school was awarded summary judgment.
When a school receives notice of a potential threat, the Appellate Division will carefully scrutinize all efforts made to address and prevent the assault. If a school has taken reasonable steps to address the claim, the school may avoid liability.
Thanks to Bill Kirrane for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions about this post please email Paul Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org.