Educational Professionals are generally celebrated as protectors and guardians of their students and have a unique duty of care that is perhaps only shared with parents. However, there can be no doubt that bullying is becoming an ever-increasing issue amongst school children, and recent Illinois cases have raised the question regarding the scope of the duty of care between educational professionals and students.
In 2022, Plaintiff, A.S on behalf of their minor son, F.S., filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois against the Board of Education for the Des Plaines School District, Superintendent of Des Plaines School, and Principal of a district school alleging that the minor child was repeatedly bullied and sexually assaulted by other students while at school.
The Plaintiff alleges that Hertl and Figueroa failed to take appropriate actions to protect the child. The suit brings claims for a violation of Title IX, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED), and failure to protect under Illinois law. Not only was the Board of Education for Des Plaines School District named as a Defendant in the case, but the superintendent and school principal were sued in their individual capacity as well.
Defendants responded that they were immune from liability under the Illinois Local Government and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act, which provides immunity protection for government and public employees. The Plaintiff argued that both the Illinois in loco parentis statute and the Defendants’ actual knowledge of the conduct created a breach in their professional duty to protect the minor child. The court, having considered the arguments of the parties during the most recent motion to dismiss, found that the Plaintiff had sufficiently alleged claims for IIED (Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress) and failure to protect against all Defendants, highlighting that an individual educator defendants may be sued in an individual capacity.
What does this mean for the educational professionals that do not roam the halls during recess and peek into classrooms? Individual educators may face personal exposure to litigation stemming from bullying when the educational professionals had prior knowledge of the occurrence and failed to act. Until the case is resolved, it is unclear what steps must be taken to satisfy the duty to protect in Illinois, but A.S. v. Board of Education for Des Plaines School District #62, et al., 22-cv-04745 highlights a movement in educational law towards a more active role for educational professionals to prevent bullying in schools.
The ability to be sued in their individual capacity emphasizes the duty to protect the physical and mental well-being of children entrusted with your care goes beyond the title of educator, but rather a responsibility shared by all adults in positions of trust.