GOLDEN TRIANGLE, Miss. (WCBI)-A renewed interest in religion in schools, more services for special needs children; sports eligibility for the disabled. Those and others are among the issues that have school superintendents across the state concerned about the increased potential for lawsuits against local schools.
In today’s society, the threat of lawsuits impacts every thing from small businesses to doctors. Some observers say it costs consumers billions of dollars a year. school districts are finding themselves just as vulnerable.
School districts deal with lawsuits from injuries all the way up to religion. Kevin Jones, the superintendent of the Noxubee County School District, says lawsuits are not always beneficial.
“Even though in the end it will finalize to an insurance claim, that’s still money that may be taken away from school districts who have to fight a claim or defend a claim. And when you take money away from the district, you are actually taking money away from the children,” says Kevin Jones.
After 26 years of working within the school system, Starkville schools Superintendent, Lewis Holloway has seen what the increase threat of lawsuits do to large and small school districts.
“In my past district, we spent probably $50,000 a year on one student’s legal issues. That’s a lot of resources that are taken away from other students to address this student’s one issue,” says Lewis Holloway.
School districts often are easy targets because of big budgets and broad insurance policies. Those insurance premiums add to school district costs. And that doesn’t even include the time lost dealing with legal issues, both actual and perceived.
“About 50 percent of my time is spent either involving legal issues or litigation or trying to develop policies and practices that protect us from lawsuits,” says Holloway.
Religion, and how to monitor and control it, is a growing concern as districts try to balance individual rights and schoolwide policies.
“Well Religion is often an item that gets people going, but students have the right to pray. I think the more tests we give the more praying goes on in school,” says Holloway.
No matter what school district you are in, lawsuits are always a possibility.
“No school district is immune from lawsuits. You just have to do the very best that you can. You can’t always prevent a lawsuit, but with documentation, training, and knowledge you can make sure that damages are limited or they don’t win at all,” says Jones.
State law exempts school districts from many local lawsuits but federal issues like services for the disabled and religion aren’t exempted.