Hector F. v. El Centro Elementary Sch. Dist. (CA4/1 D064035 6/24/14)
California’s public schools must protect students from discrimination and harassment engendered by race, gender, sexual orientation or disability. In particular, Education Code section 32282 requires that public schools develop and implement comprehensive school safety plans which include a discrimination and harassment policy. These include, "to the extent that resources are available . . . policies and procedures aimed at the prevention of bullying." (Ed. Code, § 32282, subd.(f).)
Hector F. is the father of three children. While Hector’s son, Brian, was a student at King Elementary School (King) and Kennedy Middle School (Kennedy), in El Centro, Brian was diagnosed with a number of emotional disabilities and had an individualized education plan (IEP). He was subjected to physical and verbal abuse by other children because of his disabilities and the fact that English is his second language. Hector alleges school officials ignored parents’ complaints and refused to protect Brian. Instead, the district just suggested Brian change classrooms.
Hector filed a complaint for damages in the trial court, seeking relief on behalf of Brian and on his own behalf. The school district tried to dismiss the case claiming that Hector could not sue on his own behalf. The California appellate court sided with Hector.
As a citizen and taxpayer Hector has standing to seek enforcement of laws in which there is an identified public as well as private interest. The statutory provisions asserted by Hector articulate a well identified public interest in maintaining a system of taxpayer funded public education which is free of the destructive influence of discrimination, harassment and bullying. This decision is important as it affirms that parents have rights when their child is a victim of bullying and harassment and that these are independent and in addition to the rights of their child.