School Negligence and the Capistrano Unified School District

In every school there are some students, whether it be a mental or physical disability, that require a little extra help to function throughout the day. The nurse, teachers and administrators all play an important role in this regard. If the child takes the bus to and from school, then the driver is crucial as well. Sometimes, however, the driver may not have proper training to handle a child with certain disabilities, and the result can be tragic.

This was the case when Capistrano Unified School District student Kevin Cisler was improperly buckled into his bus seat, which caused him to be strangled and die. Kevin was a 3-year old with Angelman Syndrome, which left him immobile and non-verbal, so he could not alert the driver that he was choking on the seat belts. The driver, employed by the Capistrano Unified School District, put Kevin in the seat directly behind him, which meant he was unable to see Kevin in the rear-view mirror. For all this, Kevin’s parents won a $10 million lawsuit against the district.

Schools in the Capistrano Unified School District

Capistrano serves more than 54,000 students across 64 schools within its district. It includes many cities throughout Orange County, including Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and Mission Viejo. It boasts a 97 percent graduation rate, and employs 4,000 teachers and administrators.

About one in eight students in California take the bus to and from school every year. This number varies significantly between districts, with one-fourth of districts in the state only transporting 10 percent of their students. In the 2011-2012 school year, $1.4 billion was spent on the transportation of students; about $491 million of that was covered by the state’s Home-to-School Transportation program, and the rest was covered by districts. In California, there are many requirements for someone to qualify as a school bus driver.

A prospective driver must receive a commercial license and a passenger endorsement to even begin to qualify. They must also complete School Pupil Bus Activity certification, which involves 35 total hours – 15 in the classroom and 20 behind the wheel – of training. On top of this, if they have been convicted for a sex offense within seven years of application they are automatically disqualified. The same goes with a drug offense, and the license can be revoked at any time if there is a pending charge or they are arrested.

Special Needs Students and School Liability

These licenses and certification are the usual requirements for bus drivers, but there are still more tests to complete if a driver is to be transporting special needs students. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has an online training module which covers everything from the behaviors of a special needs student, equipment necessary as well as the proper loading and unloading of a student.

The bus driver in Kevin’s tragic accident may very well have followed protocol in this matter, or at least he thought he did. But placing a non-verbal 3-year old out of sight is what caused the driver and the district to be sued and the jury to find against them.

This is just an example from the Capistrano Unified School District of one of the many potential negligence and liability suits that could be filed against a school. These are just a few more scenarios in which this could take place:

If any of these horrible things should happen, you’ll need an expert Capistrano Unified School District negligence attorney to help you fight for just compensation. Call Panish | Shea | Ravipudi LLP or fill out our online contact form in the event of a serious school injury for your free consultation.