Are there grounds for legal action with a school and/or teacher for a situation in which a teacher instructed a minor adolescent girl to remove her "inappropriate" shirt (with nothing but a bra on underneath) and turn it inside out on a school bus full of peers?
Hi, thanks for your inquiry! I have been practicing law for 17+ years and have specific experience with issues similar to yours. That being said...
I would strongly argue that while it may have been appropriate to require the child change her shirt or reverse it, if the language on the shirt or its message was inappropriate in the school setting, it WAS inappropriate to force her to remove her clothing
in front of her peers (or anyone, for that matter). That would only be appropriately done in a private setting, be it an empty classroom or bathroom, for example.
Therefore, could it be an abuse of the child? I think it could be yes, which is, of course, actionable.
Now, had there been a bathroom on the bus full of kids, and she instructed her to change her shirt in the privacy of the bathroom, no harm no foul.
But in front of other people. Not.
If a teacher took pictures of a student in her bra, that would potentially count as child porn - so displaying the child in a bra in front of peers - arguably not so different. You see what I am saying?
I assumed this was inappropriate as there could have been other methods, waiting for a bathroom, allowing her to put a shirt over the shirt, etc. What type of attorney would I utilize? Is this a suit against the school or the teacher?
Usually we include both school and teacher - the school on a basis of either its own failure to instruct the teacher as to how to handle such a situation appropriately or based on a theory of vicarious liability - employers are responsible for the actions of employees oftentimes, when the tort occurs in the line of duty.
If possible, I'd look for attorneys who have actually litigated in the arena of schools - rather than just any situation where an adult instructed a student to take off her shirt - since there are potential immunities (if a public school) he will want to navigate around. Also, if your daughter has been mortified for her body to have been shown to peers, and there is a need for counseling, that would be something you would present, since it is part of the damages that resulted from the ill-advised instruction to her. (If your daughter refused to take off her shirt, obviously there is not such a case.)
Consider searching under a company listing such as martindale.com for attorneys in your state that handle education law issues, AND personal injury and civil rights issues. While many of the 1st and 3rd areas involved typically a disabled child, this may fall under the growing area of bullying, and in this case, the teacher was the bully, arguably.
I know that when I was 14, I was so body conscious that had I been forced to take off my shirt, I'd likely have had nightmares after - and not wanted to return. I know teens a a bit more sophisticated now, generally speaking, and hopefully your daughter is not so traumatized... but dang, this would have really rocked my world back in the stone age.
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thank you for your information. I feel this is actionable and you have given me insight on where to go from here. Now to find someone local that can help me. She doesn't cry and was upset by this which gives me more drive. Thanks again!
Remember, you need not stay very local! And often, locals may have too many ties to the district (i.e. their kids go there, etc.) and may not want to rock their own boat. You've got your whole state, so at least consider looking outside of your county. Good luck!
19 Years of Legal Practice Experience in this precise field.
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