California Schools Duty to Suspend

Each year, student injury settlements cost California’s school districts millions of dollars. Students may sustain injuries on school grounds or under a school employee’s supervision during recess, in classrooms, in fights with other students, during school sports, and even from third-party criminal assaults.

A number of factors contribute to the high rate of student injury, most of which stem back to some form of negligence or misconduct – namely on the part of teachers, staff members, and school district employees. When a student gets injured at school, several California laws relating to school liability come into play. One of these is the duty to suspend.

What’s the Duty to Suspend?

California Education Code § 48911 states that while school personnel can suspend a student to prevent potential injury – such as in the case of suspending a possible assailant – personnel may not suspend a student unless they deem it an emergency situation. This Code states that the principal, the principal’s designee, or a superintendent of schools can suspend students if a student threatens to cause physical injury to another person.

Personnel must precede a suspension with an informal conference between the pupil and school employee who referred the pupil to the principal. The only time personnel can bypass this informal conference is in an emergency situation.

The Educational Code of California defines an “emergency situation” as one that the principal, principal’s designee, or district superintendent of schools determines to constitute a “clear and present danger” to the safety, health, or life of pupils or school staff. If a student receives a suspension without the preceding conference, the student’s parents and the pupil must receive notices of the right to a conference within two school days. It’s within the student’s rights to waive his or her right to a conference without penalty.

Provisions under Code § 48911 require a school employee to make a “reasonable effort” to get in touch with the pupil’s parent or legal guardian. If personnel suspend a student, parents must receive a notice in writing. In addition, a school employee must report the suspension to the school district or superintendent of schools, including the reason for the suspension. A suspension can’t last longer than five consecutive school days. Only a district superintendent of schools or the superintendent’s designee has the power to extend suspensions – and only after a meeting with the pupil and pupil’s parents. These rules and provisions make up a school personnel’s duty to suspend.

Duty to Suspend Case Example

In 2003, an injured high school student brought a case against the Sacramento City Unified School District for failing to suspend an assailant. In this case, Thompson v. Sacramento City Unified School Dist., the plaintiff (a minor student) sustained an injury during a school argument in which another student punched him. His injury occurred one day after it appeared that the assailant threatened to hit another pupil and set fire to a school bulletin board poster.

The plaintiff and his parents brought a case against the school district for failing to suspend the assailant before the plaintiff’s injuries. In this case, the court of appeal held that the district didn’t owe the plaintiff a duty to suspend the assailant. The courts based this decision on the fact that the assailant’s conduct for which the school should have allegedly based the suspension was “wholly unrelated to the plaintiff.” Therefore, the school personnel owed no special duty of care to the plaintiff.

A school’s duty to suspend relies on the belief that there’s a potential emergency situation. If the school could not have reasonably predicted a dangerous situation, as in the case of Thompson v. Sacramento City Unified School Dist., the courts will likely not hold the district liable for subsequent injuries.