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Can Parents Get in Trouble for Children's Behavior at School?


Children with behavioral, emotional, and mental disabilities sometimes behave badly and can even be violent. If this happens at school, are the parents responsible?

Recently, a teacher injured by a child filed a lawsuit — Ridgell v. McDermott, ED100402 (Miss. Ct. App., April 15, 2014) — against parents, alleging that Parents were responsible.

Ridgell was a teacher’s assistant. The child in question (Son) had been violent at school a number of times, punching, grabbing, kicking and so on. On this occasion, Son wrestled Ridgell to the floor, then kicked her in the head, causing her to fall backwards and hit her head on a desk. Ridgell claims she has sustained numerous physical injuries as a result of this attack.

Ridgell filed a lawsuit against Parents, alleging that they did not take preventive measures to control Son’s violence, such as obtaining medication, counseling, behavior modification training, and so forth. She is claiming negligent supervision of Son.

Parents responded by saying that it was the school that was in control of Son at the time. However, the Court held that the complaint sufficiently alleged that Parents could reasonably foresee injuries like Ridgell’s and did not reasonably control Son. The Court allowed the claim of negligent supervision to go forward. The Court noted that teachers also have a duty to supervise students under their care, and “the school’s acceptance of custody and control of the student may impact a determination of the scope of the parents’ duty or the conduct that constitutes breach.”

You can bet Parents will argue that the school had the obligation to identify Son’s disabilities under IDEA and provide necessary support, and the school has the responsibility to create a safe environment. But for now, this case is going forward.

What is the take-away for parents here? First, if your child’s disabilities may trigger behavior that injures your child or others, make sure your child has been evaluated properly, and is receiving treatment, either in cooperation with the school or on your own. If the child’s IEP placement may endanger people, raise that issue directly with the school (in writing). If you cannot get sufficient support for the child through the school, you may need to file for due process to challenge the placement, or provide treatment on your own.

Children with behavioral disabilities are often hard to handle. Get expert help, either with the help of the school or without it, and address the problems. Your child will be happier, and others will be safer.

Featured Image: "Happy schoolkids" by Freerange stock.

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