I blogged a few weeks ago about the parent suing the Ottawa Catholic School Bard for $325,000, alleging the school failed to protect her child from repeated acts of bullying. Two more lawsuits have recently made the headlines and school leaders are probably wondering, “Will we be next?”
In Australia, a teenage girl was awarded $290,000 in compensation by the Education Department after years of harassment and bullying at school left her a physical and emotional wreck. The girl’s parents had pleaded with the school principal to protect their daughter, and held regular discussions with teachers and the school chaplain. But the school failed to respond to the complaints and did not have established procedures to deal with bullying. The parents claim the girl’s injuries included psychological disturbance, panic disorder, insomnia, an eating disorder, stress-related psoriasis and suicidal thoughts.
In a landmark U.S. decision, a Michigan school district has been ordered to pay $800,000 to a student who claimed the school did not do enough to protect him from years of bullying.
This case makes it clear that just having an anti-bullying policy will not be enough to protect schools from future lawsuits. School officials must take a more proactive and preventative approach to ensure bullying and harassment incidents are identified, addressed and prevented ongoing.
It is critical for schools to provide all faculty, staff and students with training to identify red flags and provide tools to confidentially report suspicious behaviors (threats, bullying, discrimination, harassment, etc.) and tools for threat assessment teams to manage incident reports and red flags.
- Do your schools have Threat Assessment Team tools to ensure Red Flags are not falling through the cracks?
- Have your schools implemented the 93 recommendations from Virginia Tech Review Panel?
- Do your students, faculty, employees, and third-parties understand their responsibilities to report and document suspicious incidents before and actions during and after an emergency situation occurs (meeting Clery Act and other regulatory requirements)?
- Have your schools’ emergency plans, crisis management procedures, lockdown procedures, etc. been communicated, to appropriate personnel, acknowledged and documented?
Lessons learned clearly show schools will see expensive lawsuits, embarrassing headlines and damaged reputations if they fail to connect-the-dots and manage red flags.