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There are few topics more politically polarizing at the moment than charter schools. One side of the argument claims that bad teachers have too much job security and we need to run public schools more like private businesses. The other contends public schools are underfunded, teachers are underpaid, and the solution is not diverting public funds to schools lacking public oversight.
No matter which side of the fence you're on, there is little debate that the quality of charter schools varies greatly, and some have been used as schemes to pocket millions in government funds. So what if this happens at a charter school in which your child is enrolled? Or a charter school made unfulfilled educational promises? Do you have any legal recourse? Here's a look.
The Same, but Different
The legal liability of charter schools is often governed by state law, and in most cases charter schools (and their employees) are treated like public schools. Virginia's Charter School Code, for instance, notes, "Public charter schools shall be immune from liability to the same extent as all other public schools in the Commonwealth, and the employees and volunteers in a public charter school are immune from liability to the same extent as the employees and volunteers in a public school." And in South Carolina, "[e]mployees of charter schools must be relieved of personal liability for any tort or contract related to their school to the same extent that employees of traditional public schools in their school district."
So in many ways, suing a charter school will be similar to suing a traditional public school. But there is one main difference: almost all states limit or remove public school district liability entirely. Under California law, as long as public school officials meet their monitoring requirements, they cannot be sued: "If a county superintendent of schools monitors or investigates a charter school pursuant to this section, the county office of education shall not incur any liability beyond the cost of the investigation." South Carolina's law is similar: "A local school district, sponsor, members of the board or area commission of a sponsor, and employees of a sponsor acting in their official capacity are immune from civil or criminal liability with respect to all activities related to a charter school they sponsor."
Because the majority of state laws limit legal liability to the governing body of the charter school, they also require charter schools to carry insurance policies to cover lawsuits and damages. The Indiana Charter School Board, for example, mandates that individual charter schools carry insurance indemnifying the Board, and covering things like workers' comp, general commercial liability, and even educators' legal liability for "claims arising from wrongful acts, errors or omissions with regard to the conduct of their duties related to operation and management of the school."
In general, if you're suing a charter school, you're probably dealing with just that school (as opposed to the school district) and you're probably dealing with their insurance carrier. State laws, charter school boards, and insurance carriers, however can vary widely. So your best source of information is an experienced education attorney -- contact one in your area today.