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Some teachers and school administrators may wonder if lawsuits have had an impact on how the school system works. During a recent Harris Interactive survey, researchers discovered that over 60 percent of school principals had faced the threat of a lawsuit. Because of the way the school system works, the atmosphere within has changed how principals and teachers operate. The survey found that 82 percent of teachers and 77 percent of principals worked differently from how they might have in the past because of a lawsuit-happy society. 

Changing the Way That People Work

Based on the current legal climate, people have changed the way that they work. The issue of lawsuits has been on many school's radar systems because a lawsuit can have such a negative impact on the school funding. While some schools may not focus as heavily on the issue, you have other schools that have made it a sharp and contentious point of focus. 

Remain Cautious

Dr. Lee Yeager, the principal at S&S Middle School in Sadler, Texas, said that he always considers the legal ramifications that can arise with disgruntled students or teachers. This means that every choice requires a more cautious approach. The constant threat of lawsuits has continued to color the many decisions that school administrators have to make. 

What Does the Current Legal Climate Look Like

When we consider what the current legal climate looks like, it becomes a system based on vengeance. For example, the belief is that if a student faced sexual harassment or conduct issues, the parents want to make the school system pay. They believe that in doing this, they can improve the services that they receive from the school, and it ensures that no one else has to go through what their child went through. That's the argument for it.

Why This is Bad

People see the school system as an adversary, rather than a helper, nowadays. That's unfortunate because instead of focusing on more pertinent matters like improving education for all children, school administrators have been forced to step lightly and try not to make waves that could lead to a lawsuit. It takes the focus away from getting your children a better education. Mary Smith, a woman who says that she serves as both the administrator and the principal, once suspended a student from class. 

Before the parent had even picked up the child for the suspension, Mary received a threatening phone call from the parents' lawyer. The fact that the parent hired a lawyer that fast only goes to show that the facts were never even fully considered before raising a lawsuit. This shows the type of legal environment that we currently live in and how schools have to walk on eggshells. Mary says that the legal action taken has made her think twice about how she takes actions in the school. She imagines herself standing on the witness stand in the courtroom and how she would respond. She wants to do what she can to avoid it coming to this type of situation. 

More Litigious World

Over the last 30 years, the world has become increasingly litigious. The problem reaches even to teachers, and they must consider their actions carefully. Parents nowadays will speak about how they will contact their lawyer if decisions were made in a way they disliked. If they can't control it, they want to sue. Another problem comes from how—whether the child made a good or bad decision—they will still talk about calling a lawyer if things don't go in the direction they want it to go. This creates an atmosphere of fear as schools don't want to face another lawsuit that could lower the funding for all children. 

How to Avoid Legal Action in This Climate

Still, you have actions and measures that school administrators and teachers can take to avoid lawsuits. For example, it's important that you do your job in the best way possible and treat everyone with fairness. When you implement school policies, it's extraordinarily important that you remain consistent throughout with keeping good documentation and following protocol. For those who follow procedures, they don't have to worry as much that they will face an unfair lawsuit because the courts will see that you followed through with your protocol, and you remained consistent. The key comes down to anticipating problems before they have the chance to materialize and preventing them from ever manifesting.

One of the most important jobs that a school principal can take on comes down to looking for problems and catching them ahead of time. You should think, "What's the worst that could happen in this room or hallway?" In asking that question, you can figure out where the legal threats come from and take action to lower the risk of them.

Not If, When

For any principal, you shouldn't pretend that legal action won't be taken against your school. In fact, it's best if you look at it from the viewpoint of when the legal action against your school will take place. In addition, you need to consider if you have followed enough procedures to ensure that you will be on the winning side. Unfortunately, the current legal system that we live in dictates that you will most likely encounter a lawsuit at some point in your career. Always keep the students front and center when considering how to proceed with all your decisions. 

Focusing on What Counts

The problem with the current legal climate comes down to how it steals away our energy towards more productive things. The biggest challenge we face comes down to continuing to move forward with school education without allowing these things to bog us down. You have a hard time looking forward when you have these things misdirecting your attention in other places. It doesn't matter where you're at, no school teacher can escape the grip of a lawsuit. You have to take precautionary measures to avoid them. You never know what you might have to prove. For that reason, you have to stay alert to the potential dangers. 

Keeping an Eye on Changing Laws

Lawsuits impact the school system in the sense that school administrators and teachers should keep everyone informed on how the laws continue to evolve. You want to know the correct practices and procedures. The information should get disseminated to all faculty. Another one of the big fears comes down to how people are afraid to take a stand because they don't want to anger anyone. Even if they know that speaking up is what is right, the legal climate has made it harder for people to be a leader and take action. You have to be brave to step out, and you have to do it in the right way. 

School Relationships Less Personal

One of the big dangers of lawsuits and how they have changed the school landscape has been that personal relationships in the school system have become less personalized. It eliminates some of the fun that they could be having in school. For example, fun things like sixth-grade camping at an off-site location has been eliminated because schools can't risk the legal action taken against them, despite it being a great opportunity to learn about nature. 

Some principals even worry that parents look for reasons that they can sue the school. Here are some of the most common liabilities. The smallest slip-up can lead to a huge lawsuit. If they believe they can get a big out-of-court settlement, they will speak with an attorney. Because many attorneys work on a percentage basis, the people who file these frivolous lawsuits don't have anything to lose. The key to avoiding these scenarios comes down to remaining professional and keeping good documentation. 

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