I cannot overstate the gravity and sadness of this August 10, 2022 filed decision C.I. v. San Bernardino City Unified School (from the California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, cited as 2022 WL 4077374).
This case involves a school shooting where an estranged Husband of a current Teacher came onto school grounds, into the school, past the reception (knowingly)…then went into Teacher’s classroom, shoots Teacher, another student, and himself.
Again, as a former elementary school teacher—my heart goes out to this teacher, her family, and all the students who experienced this.
The legal question with this is whether the school is liable for this shooting. Specifically whether this act of violence was foreseeable. The Court’s answer here is no, these actions were not foreseeable. And thus, the school is not liable.
The Court’s focus was on how Husband entered the school. The facts of the case are:
To Husband, Teacher stated she was not afraid of him (Husband). And Teacher’s daughter “never observed any injuries on Smith [Teacher], never witnessed [Anderson] become violent with her, and never suspected that he may be abusive toward her.”
“Anderson arrived at the school’s front office under the guise of dropping something off for his wife. The receptionist, who knew him as Smith’s husband, witnessed him sign the visitor’s log (as required by school policy)….”
“Previously, Anderson had been to the school and never posed a threat or caused any problem; Smith never informed anyone at the school or the district about her marital issues, and the school principal never observed any suspicious injuries on Smith.”
“The receptionist therefore allowed Anderson to enter the school campus and proceed to Smith’s classroom without notifying her of his presence or asking permission to send him back.”
“Smith’s classroom did not have a door; rather, it had a curtain.”
The general law for school negligence focuses on foreseeability: “A school district’s responsibility ‘includes the duty to use reasonable measures to protect students from foreseeable injury at the hands of third parties acting negligently or intentionally.’”
The Court here holds Husband’s actions were not foreseeable to the school.
The Court also balances public policy factors, saying requiring too many restrictions on schools to police their grounds is not reasonable. “To avoid liability, schools would be compelled to undertake onerous and costly measures—such as inspecting every person who comes on campus for weapons and other safety hazards, vetting all visitors, teachers, and students, and monitoring their daily activities and the condition of classrooms at least during school hours.”
“Public policy factors counsel against imposing a duty on school districts to ensure that students are safe from third party criminal conduct of known visitors—including teachers’ spouses, and students’ parents and family members.”
A sad case. Again, my heart goes out to these persons and families.