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School District Not Liable for Injuries Resulting from Bullying of Student

By October 13, 2014April 29th, 2015News

In Malinksi v. Grayslake Community High School District 127,the Illinois Appellate Court held that a school district was not liable for injuries that resulted from the bullying of a student by other students at school. 2014 IL App (2d) 130685. The plaintiff, Carlos Malinksi, sued his former high school district, alleging that other students subjected him to bullying and that the district failed to provide a safe environment. Specifically, Malinksi argued that he told school staff and administrators of the bullying on numerous occasions but the District did not take appropriate action in response to his reports of verbal and physical abuse and recklessly disregarded his safety. This resulted in Malinksi being beaten up outside of his classroom and sustaining physical and mental injuries.

The district argued, and the Appellate Court agreed, that it should not be held liable for any alleged injuries as a result of the bullying because it is entitled to immunity pursuant to the Tort Immunity Act. Under the Tort Immunity Act, school districts and their employees are protected from immunity when exercising discretion when taking action.

In reaching this conclusion, the Appellate Court noted that because the school district’s policy was not provided, it was unable to determine whether the policy required a specific response to the circumstances alleged in the case or whether it permitted discretion to determine when bullying occurred and the appropriate action to take.

In the absence of the policy, the court found that how a school official handles an instance of bullying is a discretionary act because although the School Code requires school districts to maintain an anti-bullying policy, the carrying out of the anti-bullying policy permits school districts to use discretion to determine whether bullying has occurred, what consequences will result, and any appropriate remedial actions.

Although this case bodes well for school districts, it did not involve an analysis of the new legislation regarding the mandatory anti-bullying policy that school districts must adopt. Under recent amendments to the School Code, the anti-bullying policy now sets forth significantly more detailed requirements for school districts to adhere to with regard to bullying incidents and thus, school officials’ actions under new bullying policies pursuant to these recent amendments may affect the analysis used by the Appellate Court in this case. Click HERE for a detailed analysis of the new anti-bullying legislation.