Friday, December 12, 2014

CJ R-1 lawyer: School officials don't have to deal with bullying

In a motion for summary judgment filed earlier this week in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Carl Junction R-1 attorney Derek Teeter asks the judge to dismiss the Nugent family's wrongful death lawsuit against the district, claiming that even if there was bullying, it was entirely up to district officials' discretion whether to do anything about it.

According to the lawyer, the defendants, including Superintendent Phil Cook, Assistant Superintendent Gary Reed, Junior High Principal Scott Sawyer, Assistant High School Principal Theresa Wilson, and bus driver David Roughton, have official immunity from being sued because they have had the proper training on how to deal with bullying, whether they deal with it or not.

In their lawsuit, Jessica and Mika Nugent, parents of 13-year-old Luke Nugent, claim that he killed himself in March 2013 after being bullied by high school students on the bus.

Roughton said he was unaware that Luke Nugent had been bullied.

Plaintiffs offered no evidence that Roughton was made aware of any allegations, or that any of the alleged misconduct occurred in a manner that should have put Roughton on notice. However, even if Plaintiffs did have supporting evidence (which they do not) Roughton's response to alleged student misconduct, including a decision to do nothing, would be inherently discretionary.

The same argument applies to the school officials, Teeter wrote.

All of them are covered by the Paul D. Coverdell Teacher Protection Act of 2001, part of the No Child Left Behind law, he wrote.

 School employees must be allowed to use their judgment and discretion to respond to allegations and behaviors of students.  They should be able to do so without the threat of tort suits hanging over them.  Indeed, if the discretionary decisions of school employees regarding control and discipline are second-guessed through hindsight, in civil lawsuits, qualified individuals will be deterred from serving this important public role, and those who do serve will make discipline decisions based not on the best interests of students, but rather based on minimizing personal exposure to crippling monetary judgments.

Teeter noted that Sawyer took the extra step of riding the school bus after the bullying situation had been brought to his attention, but no one attempted to bully Luke Nugent that day.

The attorney's conclusion:

The death of L.N. is truly tragic.  But the only events to which the Individual Defendants could possibly respond are those events of which they are aware.  And even when educators are aware of discipline problems, they are immune from tort claims that seek to second-guess their exercise of discretion through the lens of hindsight.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I really, really dislike lawyers...

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a bunch of crap

Anonymous said...

This still does not excuse all the defendants, specifically the principal and the superintendent from disciplinary action against those individuals who bully and hurt students attending the CJ school district. As I recollect, the principal himself mentioned that the bus he rode on was quite out of control. Was the bus driver not aware of what was going on in his bus? How incompetent are the adults in the lives of these children? It also has been said that the school district has anti-bullying statutes in place, but evidently they have not been implemented? And whatever little was started after Luke Nugent's death, the superintendent put a stop to it for the fear of "looking bad!" This lawyer forgot to mention that in his comments to the courts. I cannot imagine the five defendants having a lot of common sense to make discretionary decisions about when a child is being bullied, and their fearless leader, Mr. Superintendent is setting the example....

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree.... Bullying has ALWAYS been an issue in CJ. I stood up for a classmate in 5th grade because of classmates' bullying to another classmate. It ticked me off and I finally said something to them... I've never ever dealt well with classmate's being bullied and I stepped in when I felt it wouldn't cause bigger issues.... It absolutely sickens me that this happened and for the fact that I graduated from there and bullying is clearly only getting worse...I hope the parents and family are able to find peace and closure SOMEWHERE in all the tragedy...

Anonymous said...

If he would have been my kid i would have bought him some cowboy boots and a flannel shirt and drove him to school and picked him up