When we send our children to school in Atlanta, Georgia we expect a safe environment. We are all afraid of another student bullying our children. We know the bullies are out there and some of us may have been bullied ourselves as children by other kids. What happens, however, when it is the teacher that is the bully? Unfortunately, schools can claim sovereign (i.e. state) immunity in cases in which students are harmed at school, and when it comes to a teacher bullying a student, the law doesn’t appear to have much sympathy; yet.
For example, in the Georgia Court of Appeals case Daniels v. Gordon, 232 Ga. App. 811 where the student claimed that the teacher physically restrained and choked him causing him physical and emotional injuries, the trial court granted the teacher and the principal’s motion for summary judgement. The Court of Appeals further upheld the trial courts ruling stating that that the teacher’s actions did not amount to corporal punishment such that the provisions of Ga. Code Ann. § 20-2-790 et seq. would have applied.
The court further decided that the principal and the teacher were entitled to official immunity. The Court concluded that there was no evidence of actual malice and, therefore, there was no cause of action in the principal’s performance of discretionary acts such that the principal would not have been immune from suit. Although the Daniels case has been followed as precedent, I believe, with the continuous number of cases and the increased severity of cases of bullying by students and teachers alike, that the tide is turning and that more protection shall, and will be, offered to students in these situations.
For example, the Official Code of Georgia § 20-2-751.7 outlines a State mandated process that students may follow in reporting instances of alleged inappropriate behavior by a teacher or other school personnel including reporting instances of alleged inappropriate behavior by a teacher, administrator, or other school employee toward a student to law enforcement authorities. Furthermore, each local school system shall be required to implement and follow such state mandated processes and shall include the mandated process in student handbooks and in employee handbooks or policies.
The issue of school’s being responsible for bullying at school is also discussed in detail in our Spring, 2014 Newsletter Legal Matters posted on our website. Recently, a case in Ohio caught a teacher on surveillance video when the student was assaulted by the teacher by the teacher lifting up the six (6) year old student, pinning the student against the wall and also grabbing the student by the face and shirt. Although the teacher was only punished by receiving “time off” the parents of the student stated that, “If I were to do that to her, I would go to jail.”
As stated in O.C.G.A. Section 20-2-751.7, a student has the right to report an incident of bullying to law enforcement, and this may be the proper place in which these cases should be handled; in a court of law instead of by administrators of the school. The cases should further be treated as crimes of assault and battery, which is what bullying really is, and the person(s) who have committed the crime should be held criminally responsible, and not be able to hide behind the concept of sovereign immunity regardless if malice was involved. If a student, teacher or anyone else assaults or batters a student, then, I believe, that malice should be assumed in these cases and brought to justice accordingly.
If you or a loved one has been bullied at school by anybody, then we are truly sorry and we are here to help. You may contact us at any time for your free legal consultation at 770-865-8654, (813) 363-6664, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on the Contact Form on this blog, and on our Website. We will fight for your legal rights if this terrible event happens, or has happened, to you or a loved one.