Harassment suits do not belong in schools

On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school systems may be held liable and could be sued for ignoring student complaints of sexual harassment by other students. This ruling affects schools nationwide from the elementary to the university level. The door has been opened for a slew of legal cases that could cost schools millions of dollars. Although schools have a responsibility to protect their students against sexual harassment, giving students and their parents the go-ahead to sue school districts for negligence is not the best solution.
In 1992, Aurelia Davis of Forsyth, Ga., sued the Monroe Country Board of Education. She claimed that although she and her daughter LaShonda repeatedly told school officials at Hubbard Elementary of LaShonda’s troubles with sexual harassment from a fellow student, there were no steps taken by school officials to stop it. The lawsuit stated that the harassment affected LaShonda’s grades and debilitated her mentally and emotionally. The case was recently decided 5-4 in favor of Davis in the U.S. Supreme Court, but a federal appeals court had earlier ruled the other way on a 7-4 vote.
In recent years, there have been many cases of senseless suing. For example, a jury awarded a New Mexico woman $2.9 million after she was scalded by coffee she had purchased at McDonald’s. This week’s Supreme Court decision will just add to the number of individuals looking to make some easy money from large institutions.
The monetary losses that could come from such lawsuits against schools would be severely damaging. Sports teams and art clubs have already been cut out of curriculums because of a lack of funds in school districts. With an increase in court cases involving individuals looking for a quick buck, schools would have to put out money for legal fees even if the courts ruled in their favor. Spending money on frivolous court cases is the last thing schools should have to worry about.
Another problem to consider is the actions of the officials to counteract the possibility of court cases. As a preventative measure against lawsuits, it is highly probable that officials will institute harsher punishments for less harmful student-to-student interaction. This is where the line between kids playing and sexual harassment gets fuzzy. Now that the stakes of harassment are higher and school finances are on the line, schools will move even closer to becoming police states.
Instead of allowing lawsuits against a school, a more effective solution to the problem of school officials’ negligence would be to fine the school district involved. This would mean the district would pay the state rather than individuals. Fines levied against school districts would be similar to fines against any group or individual convicted of a crime. If individuals are not going to get money from lawsuits, the number of frivolous cases would be reduced. In considering the affects of negligence by school officials, the effects on schools of giving individuals the power to sue should have been more carefully weighed. The Supreme Courts decision can only harm our beleaguered school systems, not end harassment problems.