Lawsuits Protecting Students
By, July 12, 2010

Some “tort reform” groups have built entire campaigns around liability issues in schools, lamenting (falsely) that lawsuits prevent teachers and principals from not only disciplining (or hitting) students, but touching them in “nice” ways, too. (Like when Vincent L. Ferrandino, then Executive Director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, complained in 1999, “A Kentucky principal told me how very concerned she and her staff are about touching students.… Today, at a time when children need adult attention more than ever, educators must keep their hands off.”)

Hmmm. The vast majority of teachers and principals would never engage in or condone the inappropriate touching of students, of course. But let’s talk about the fact that sexual abuse in schools does go on (some examples here), and is often covered up.

On Friday, an Illinois jury awarded $3.5 million to “the families of nine girls who say they were bound, gagged and molested by a Berwyn band teacher and then ignored by school officials when they complained of the abuse.” The case was against both the former teacher, Robert Sperlik, and the former principal, Karen Grindle.

Sperlik is now in jail after pleading guilty to sexual abuse and “kidnapping of more than 20 girls, some as young as 9.” But according to the jury verdict, the principal “knew about the abuse and intentionally hid information from authorities.” Apparently, “ police found two letters of reprimand … that warned Sperlik to ‘quit doing inappropriate touching,’ officials have said.” None of those concerns were forwarded to police or the Illinois Dept. of Children and Family Services.

This is what can happen when school officials do not protect students – but lawsuits do. More immunity for school officials? I don't think so.



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