Schools could be held responsible for students’ safety after dismissal and must exercise reasonable care in their supervision, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision last week.
The decision in Jerkins vs. Anderson stems from a case where a Pleasantville elementary student was paralyzed after he was hit by a car hours after school let out early. NJSBA participated in this case as amicus curiae.
The court’s June 14 ruling established three elements of a school’s responsibilities after dismissal:
- Policy: The school must adopt a reasonable policy that addresses how students of different ages will be dismissed. That policy should include, at a minimum, sufficient detail about the adult supervision and patrols present during dismissal, the duties and locations of those adults, and procedures for early dismissal.
- Notification: The school must adequately notify parents of the policy. The notice should describe what parents can expect when the school releases children and should list the dismissal time for each day of the school year. The school must inform parents how it will supervise children and if there are any after-school services available for students. The notice must also tell parents how they should inform the school if they do not want their child walking home unescorted.
- Implementation: The school must adhere to parents’ reasonable requests regarding dismissal. If instructed not to permit a child to walk home alone, a district must supervise the child at the school until the appropriate escort arrives. The district must have a plan for temporary supervised shelter when a parent or escort does not arrive.
Some school boards might have to make substantial policy changes, while others would need to make only minor changes.
The court said the school’s duty must be viewed with the responsibilities of others, such as municipalities, which provide crossing guards, and parents, who need to follow school notices and act responsibly. The court called on the state Department of Education to establish dismissal policies for schools to use.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to trial court to decide if the school district complied with its duty to care for students during dismissal.
For assistance in developing policy in this area, contact NJSBA Policy Consultant Jean Harkness at (888) 886-5722, ext. 5268.