The California Court of Appeals recently addressed whether a school was negligent by failing to supervise two students who fought on their way to high school, off school property. In this opinion, the court focused their analysis on duty and whether the school had undertaken a duty owed to the students. The appellate court concluded that Education Code section 44808 provided the school with immunity for injuries taking place off school property, and here there had not been a specific undertaking of responsibility. The school was not at fault.
Education Code section 44808 provides schools with immunity when students are injured off school property and under circumstances the school could not control. The lower court held that foreseeability alone did not create a duty to supervise the students. The appellate court affirmed. After a verbal dispute in class, one of two high school students was sent home early to avoid further contact, and a notation was made to their class schedule, indicating that the two students could not be in class together. On the following day, before school, the two students physically engaged, and one student alleged he was injured when struck by the other.
The allegedly injured student filed a complaint, naming the school district and the other student as defendants. The complaint alleged premises liability and negligence. The school district moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was immune from liability under Education Code section 44808. The court ruled in its favor because the fight took place off school grounds, and the school had not undertaken supervision of the students off school property. The plaintiff appealed.
In their analysis, the appellate court stated that Education Code section 44808 provides that schools are not responsible or liable for the safety or conduct of pupils when the pupils are not on school property. There are exceptions to this rule, such as when the school is transporting students or is engaged in a school-sponsored activity. In those circumstances, the school may be liable when the pupil is under the immediate and direct supervision of an employee of the school.
In terms of policy, the Court stated that the section essentially grants a school district immunity, unless a student was directly supervised during a school activity. In other words, a school district may be liable for negligence when it acts negligently while undertaking responsibility. But the appellate court stated that there have been inconsistent interpretations of section 44808, and the consensus is that school liability is limited for after-hours, off-campus activity, without a specific undertaking of duty.
In this case, the two students were en route to school and off school property, and the school did not have a duty to supervise them. The district had not undertaken to supervise the students, and accordingly, section 44808 of the Education Code provided immunity from liability.
The Court affirmed the judgment in favor of the district.
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