Sending children to school should not cause parents to fear of whether they will return home safely or not. Unfortunately, new challenges such as cyberbullying, school shootings, and infringements upon the right to free speech can threaten students’ physical and psychological well-being during school hours. It is up to public schools in California to evaluate their safety levels, and to enforce child protection policies as needed to meet the current federal safety standards.
Federal Laws: The Children First Act of 2015
The Children First Act turned parts of the Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children into law. It provides many important child protection measures now part of federal law. These include several requirements for organizations that provide services to children, including public schools. The requirements and obligations do not vary from establishment to establishment.
- Keep children safe from harm while providing services.
- Create a Child Safeguarding Statement, and provide a copy to the Child and Family Agency (Tusla).
- Report child protection concerns to the Child and Family Agency.
- Assist the Child and Family Agency in assessing child protection risk, if required.
- Cooperate with Tusla, if necessary, during an assessment by the Agency.
The purpose of the Children First Act is to establish rules regarding keeping children safe and reporting child welfare concerns. Establishments may have to appoint certain staff members, or mandated reporters, with training and experience in the area of child protection. Mandated reporters must report child abuse, including school sexual abuse, above a certain threshold if it comes to their attention during the course of their work. All schools in the U.S. had to comply with the stipulations of the Children First Act by March 11th, 2018.
California Anti-Bullying Law
California has passed state child protection policies for public schools in addition to federal standards. One such law is the statewide anti-bullying policy, or Safe Place to Learn Act. California law already recognized the right of every person in public school, regardless of any protected class, to equal rights and opportunities. The Safe Place to Learn Act further requires the State Department of Education to assess local schools and ensure they have adopted anti-bullying policies as specified.
If a school has not created a policy that prohibits bullying, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination and made that policy public to pupils and parents, it could receive an infraction for breaking state law. Schools must also give employees who serve students grades 7 to 12 information on community and agency resources relating to LGBTQ+ rights and support. The Superintendent of Public Instruction must also post resources supporting students who have suffered bullying, intimidation, harassment, or discrimination, and update the list annually.
The Safe Place to Learn Act establishes that every pupil deserves a safe and supportive school environment, and that the federal government has recognized the dangers bullying can cause. It also recognizes that supportive and safe learning environments can enhance student performance, as well as prevent negative outcomes such as mental health problems, substance abuse, and suicide. Bullying within the statute refers to any physical or verbal conduct that causes the victim fear or mental distress, or that interferes with the pupil’s studies.
Breaching Federal or State Child Protection Laws
Despite multiple laws regarding the enforcement of child protection policies in school settings, some educational centers fail to reasonably prevent or intervene with bullying, acts of violence, and child abuse or neglect. This can lead to childhood injuries, emotional distress, and deaths. No child should suffer because of an institution’s negligence.
If your child sustained physical injuries, child sexual assault, or emotional damages because of a public school’s failure to uphold child protection policies, you could have grounds for a negligence lawsuit against the school district in California. Contact an attorney to evaluate your case and odds of compensation. You can call to schedule a free initial consultation with Estey & Bomberger, LLP about your case today! (800) 925-0723