The Maryland Court of Special Appeals held on September 7, 2021 that Maryland public school teachers cannot be held liable in negligence for the injuries of students under their supervision at the hands of other misbehaving students. Gambrill v. Board of Dorchester County, et al., No. 0886, September Term 2019 (September 7, 2021). The Court upheld the trial court’s summary judgment decision in favor of the Board of Education of Dorcester County related to the treatment of a sixth grade girl by her classmates. The student experienced various verbal and physical attacks that resulted in two concussions and the involvement of law enforcement. The teachers and administration addressed the situation in various ways by suspending other students, coordinating external mediation, and separating the aggressors from the victim.
Despite the severity of the altercations, the Court of Special Appeals upheld the finding that a federal law known as the Coverdell Act provides immunity to teachers from negligence claims where they are acting within the scope of their role and were not recklessly indifferent to the harm. The Court also relied on Hunter v. Board of Education of Montgomery County, which held that school boards cannot be held liable for the negligent application of student discipline. With this precedent, Gambrill has essentially eliminated the negligent discipline claim if a reasonable response to the harm was shown by the teachers and/or school.
The decision is a significant win for public school teachers who must make minute-by-minute disciplinary decisions. To be subjected to a negligence claim for student injuries would put teachers in the untenable position of having to manage their classrooms out of a fear of legal action rather than doing what they believe is in a student’s best interest. The case has been appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals.
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