Legal Responsibility of a teacher on a playground
If a school board was to allow contact sports at recess, what are the legal responsibilities of teachers?
As a general rule, teachers supervise students, provide proper instruction, and maintain district equipment. A teacher's legal responsibilities are, in part, outlined in state statutory law at Mont. Code Ann. §20-4-301.
The portion of this statute that relates to your question is: "(1) A teacher under contract with a district shall: (a) conform to and enforce the laws, board of public education policies, and policies of the trustees of the district; * * * (e) exercise due diligence in the care of school grounds and buildings, furniture, equipment, books, and supplies * * *"
In Montana, trustees of school districts hold the legal authority to establish policies concerning playground activity. If the trustees of a district establish a policy allowing contact sports during recess, the teacher's responsibilities include providing adequate supervision as defined by professional, legal and district guidelines to ensure that the students behave reasonably and properly in light of any foreseeable damages. Activities with potential high risk of injury require greater supervision. The courts have held that the standard of care for teachers is to act in a manner similar to that of a prudent or careful parent. This is a higher standard of care than that of a "reasonable person." However, if a student is injured while engaging in board-authorized contact sports, the "playground teacher" is not necessarily personally liable for the injury. Montana law provides that the teacher, as an agent of the district, must be indemnified (that is, held harmless) for the injury as long as the teacher acted within the course and scope of the teacher's employment. Montana state law provides that governmental entities (including school districts) are liable for their torts and those of their employees acting within the scope of their employment or duties. See Mont. Code Ann. §2-9-102. That law protects teachers and other district employees if a civil lawsuit is brought against an employee for alleged negligent acts, errors, or omissions committed while acting within the course and scope of their employment. See Mont. Code Ann. §2-9-305.
This is a relatively complicated issue raised by this question. If you are a teacher and have additional questions, we urge you to contact your union. If you are an administrator or a trustee, we urge you to contact either the Montana School Boards Association or the Montana Rural Education Association.
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