While it may be unfortunate for educators to have to think in these terms, teachers and school districts need to take steps to protect themselves from litigation. Failure to do so could result in seemingly small mistakes that can result in big issues for the teacher and the school district in which they are employed.
School districts should have clear policies on their website in which guidelines and regulations are explained. These rules should be carefully drafted with legal counsel to minimize the possibility of litigation against the district and its employees. Everyone working for the school district should be familiar with these policies and follow them diligently. This way, expectations are clear and legal conflicts can be avoided.
By the same token, schools provide teachers with handbooks and it pays to be thoroughly acquainted with these rules and regulations. The handbook will contain information about what is expected of staff members, guidelines for interactions with parents and students, and other helpful material. Almost always, there will be a form that requires a signature saying that the employee has read and understood what is in the handbook.
It is important for staff to be present for any training opportunities that the district offers. Often these are state mandated sessions on topics ranging from bullying to identifying students in need of extra assistance. Staff members should document their attendance by signing in to the session. By fulfilling training requirements, the district can ensure their compliance with state standards.
Teachers spend every day supervising students. It is a big responsibility to ensure that each student is cared for and safe. Again, it is advisable for staff to familiarize themselves with school policies and clarify any questions they have with their principal. Additionally, staff should review the policies together with students and parents. Staff should practice different scenarios so that students know exactly what is expected of them as they arrive and leave the school, or when they are alone in the hallways on the way to the restroom.
Once a teacher has thorough knowledge of district and school policies, there are many situations which will require common sense and good judgment to ensure proper duty of care has been exercised. This means teachers will need to do everything they can to warn students of any risks involved in activities that take place under their supervision so that avoidable physical injuries do not occur. Supervising very young children requires more attention than their older peers. In a science class, students must be advised as to the risks posed by the potentially dangerous equipment being used and supervision must be at a more focused level than one where the class is reading books. Staff should try to anticipate situations that could be problematic and act on them. If a student comes to a staff member to report bullying, the information must be reported to the principal.
Finally, staff should turn to mentors, colleagues, and legal counsel for advice in situations where they are in doubt.