School security is not just about safety

The start of the school year sees many districts taking “target hardening” steps to protect students and staff from physical harm (“The False Comfort in School Security,” The New York Times, Sep. 7).  Whether they make any difference is debatable.  But missing from the debate is another factor that is not arguable.

I’m referring now to the threat of lawsuits.  If school officials did not do everything reasonable to protect students, they would soon find themselves the subject of a lawsuit for negligence.  In today’s litigious society, doctors practice defensive medicine by ordering tests that they ordinarily would not based strictly on their clinical judgment.  I maintain that school officials would also be sued.

Yes, it’s expensive to implement such target hardening steps.  But it’s a lot more expensive to defend oneself in a court of law.  There is no way to guarantee the absolute safety of students.  But I believe that courts will rule in favor of school districts if they have taken reasonable measures.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)


4 Replies to “School security is not just about safety”

  1. Agree that school systems should be concerned about being sued if students are killed or injured in a mass shooting.

    No easy answer. It’s outside my legal expertise, but I think that school systems usually cannot defend civil suits by claiming a government-immunity exemption. That means a plaintiff’s case would probably get past the school system’s pretrial summary judgment motion and be heard by a jury. Civil cases do not require a unanimous jury + jurors might be very sympathetic to the plaintiff — particularly if the plaintiff had been permanently injured rather than killed + jurors might view the school system as simply a faceless “deep pocket”. Hopefully, judges hearing these cases would grant pretrial summary judgment motions by the school system — since, as a matter of law, it’s unlikely that school system negligence actually caused the deaths/injuries. But, I’m not optimistic re this issue. Plaintiffs will always be able to list things the school system “should” have done to prevent the shooting or to limit the damage and the question for the judge would then be whether the school system’s failure to do one or more of these things constituted negligence. Very tempting to pass the buck to a jury. Judges would have to have a lot of intestinal fortitude to rule for the school system in a pretrial SJ motion.


  2. Labor Lawyer: When I was teaching at a high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the principal, who was a former Marine brigadier general, recognized the potential threat to students posed by gang bangers loitering off campus. He immediately requested armed security guards on campus, the first time in the school’s history. Their mere presence served as a deterrent. It is impossible to guarantee a completely safe campus, but taking bold steps as he did is one way to protect against lawsuits.


    1. I defer to your real-world experience re cost/benefit of such security measures at schools. My gut reaction — drawing, no doubt, on my personal experience in an extremely safe suburban high school — is that metal detectors and armed security guards convey the message to the students that assaults, guns, knives and drugs are what is expected in the school while doing relatively little to keep weapons out or stop mass shootings. Wonder if there is research re the impact (+/-) on serious misconduct when metal detectors and armed security are installed in a school?


  3. Labor Lawyer: I haven’t seen any research on the subject. I know some parents have objected to the use of metal detectors, but I maintain they are a small price to pay for possibly reducing guns and other weapons. No policy is going to satisfy everyone.


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