Civil/Commercial Litigation (Lawsuits)/Suing a school
Before I start, I'm from Canada, and I'm aware laws and what not are different but I need an opinion.
My sister is in grade 9 at an all girls junior high school (with only one class of each grade level 7-9, with a total of 3 junior high teachers, inside a elementary school). Her school had a celebration for the grade 9 students, a little graduation and awards ceremony. There were small videos and power points in memory of their past three years, made by students, a very select group of student (more of a clique). She wasn't in any of the videos because of it, even the power point with the baby pictures each student had submitted. The students excluded her. This is bullying. The teachers clearly didn't watch the video in advance, or didn't care that they were excluding her.
Yesterday, my mom had received a phone call from one of my sister's teachers. She was discussing her poor attendance for the past year, (my sister was diagnosed with depression a few days before their celebration, if you've ever been effected by depression, you'll understand that it was the cause for her poor attendance, as well as the days prior to this call, she was very sick, with the flu). During the conversation, the teacher mentioned her marks. Little did my mom know that this conversation was being held while my sister stood at the teachers desk during class, while the whole class waited for the teacher to finish the call. Basically, my sisters teacher had told the class my sisters marks, which teachers are bound by a privacy agreement to not share any information, such as marks, to any other person besides the student's parent/guardian and the student. This phone call did two things: 1) did not follow the agreement, and 2) humiliated my sister in front of the class.
After the phone call my sister was sent to write a test that she had missed because she was sick. After she had left, a student a said out loud to the class "Serves her right, she deserves it," and my sisters friend had told my sister when she had returned. The teacher had allowed the student to say it, and the student wasn't punished or called out because of what she had said. From this, I see that the teacher has made no attempt to deter bullying among the students.
These are the most recent events I have been informed about, there have been a number more, and a number of events including the teacher and students have been discussed with the principal. Now at the last week of school there still has been no evidence of change, or even of punishment of students and teachers behavior.
Ultimately, my question is, can my mother and sister sue the school for bullying and/or neglect to deter, prevent or punish acts of bullying?
Before I respond further to your question, I must make clear that I do not represent you, and cannot give you individual particularized legal advice. No attorney client relationship is created by this email. For legal advice, you should hire your own attorney, and follow their advice. My role with AllExperts is limited to providing general information and suggestions for educational or general knowledge purposes. Before you take any action, consult with your own attorney.
To paraphrase Michael Corleone from the Godfather, if history teaches us anything its that anyone can sue anybody. A superior question for you to ponder is, if your mother/sister sue the school could they win anything. The answer will of course depend on your particular facts and skills at delivering them to a judge and/or jury.
The closest cause of action that I can apply to the facts that you describe to me is a tort here called intentional infliction of emotional distress. The elements of this tort are (1) the opponent acted intentionally or recklessly (2) the conduct of your opponent was extreme and outrageous (3) the conduct caused emotional distress and (4) the emotional distress was severe.
Based on the above, I would anticipate your mother/sister's suit would fail. The school staff appear to have acted in a manner that's not very nice. However, the conduct is not "extreme" or "outrageous". An example from a successful case where the conduct was deemed extreme and outrageous is the mishandling of a body at a funeral. I don't think you're going to convince a judge/jury that a snotty telephone call and omiting a picture from a slide show is extreme or outrageous. Further, although I'm sure your sister is irritated and unhappy, I did not read anything in your account that would lend me to believe that she's suffered severe emotional distress. If she has, get her to a doctor for treatment right away.
Alternatively, your mother/sister may have a breach of contract claim regarding the agreement you mentioned. I encourage you to find that agreement and read through it thoroughly.
I suggest that you consult with a lawyer licensed to practice in your area, and explore all possible causes of action that may help. I also offer for your consideration that you may achieve non-legal relief by complaining to school administrators, government officials, and or sharing your concerns publicly with your community.
I hope this helps, good luck to you.
SMITH & RAVER LLP
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