California Education Code: Duty to Warn of Violent Propensities
Posted in Legal Questions on December 16, 2016
California school districts implement many laws, rules, and regulations to help in the event of altercations, accidents, and emergencies. Lawmakers describe these provisions in the California Education Code – a code in 69 parts. Students have the right to attend peaceful, safe, and secure campuses to promote education throughout the state of California. The school district has an affirmative duty to take reasonable steps to protect all students. Part of this duty is to warn of violent propensities.
Defining “Violent Propensities”
If a school district receives knowledge that a specific student has known violent propensities, it’s the school district’s duty to warn teachers and staff members. This duty protects students under the district’s charge. CA Education Code § 49079 outlines the “duty to warn of violent propensities.” It states that a school distraction shall inform teachers of pupils who have engaged in or suspected to have engaged in certain unlawful acts. The Education Code describes several such acts, including when the pupil:
- Threatened to cause, attempted to cause, or caused another person physical injury
- Willingly used violence or force upon another person (except in cases of self-defense)
- Possessed or sold a knife, firearm, or explosive
- Unlawfully possessed, sold, used, or was under the influence of a controlled substance, alcohol beverage, tobacco, or intoxicant
- Attempted to commit or committed robbery or extortion
- Damaged or stole school or private property
- Committed an obscene act
- Engaged in an act of bullying
The school district may receive word of these acts through a law enforcement agency or any records that the district has through its course of business. If the pupil has engaged in any of these acts, the district can reasonably assert that the pupil has violent propensities.
If this is the case, the district must pass this information along to teachers and other staff members. Unless someone proves that the information was false and that the district knew of its falsity, the courts won’t hold a school district civilly or criminally liable for distributing this information.
The information that the school district must look at can go back as far as three school years. If a school district officer or employee knowingly fails to give information regarding a pupil with violent propensities, the courts may find the responsible party guilty of a misdemeanor. The penalties for failing to report this information to teachers is up to six months in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $1,000.
Case Example: Skinner v. Vacaville Unified School District
In 1995, the California courts tried the case of Skinner v. Vacaville Unified School District. In this case, a high student attacked another student during a physical education volleyball game. The plaintiff alleged that the school had suspended the assailant four times in a single semester for instigating fights and fighting. The assailant also had a history of harassing another student, refusing to work, and being “disruptive, defiant, and disrespectful” in class. Despite the assailant’s negative track record, the court of appeal held that the school district wasn’t liable.
Although the school attendant in question had prior knowledge of the assailant’s violent propensities, she provided adequate supervision and therefore couldn’t have reasonably prevented the confrontation – which broke out with no prior warning. While the courts admitted that there was evidence supporting a breach of Code 49709, the information that the attendant had regarding the assailant was independent, and thus “superfluous or nearly so” according to the courts. Had the school district failed to inform the attendant of the assailant’s previous history, the courts may have ruled differently.