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Teacher’s Absence From Classroom Causes Student to Lose Vision in One Eye

Michael Talve, CEO

Written by
— Updated on October 13, 2017

This educational leadership case involves a student who was enrolled in a sixth grade class of thirty students. One day, after the students had returned from lunch, the teacher instructed them to remain in their seats and do an assignment written on the board. The school had a policy where students would go to lunch in groups of six and the teacher would go to the cafeteria with the last group of six students. The students would return to the classroom in their groups as soon as they finished lunch. On the day the injury occurred, the teacher did not return to the classroom with the last group of students but stayed in the cafeteria to finish her lunch. The students in the classroom starting dueling with pencils and one of the pencils flew across the room and struck the student in the eye. The student eventually lost all vision in her left eye.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. If a teacher leaves a class unsupervised and an injury occurs to a student, is the teacher negligent in not supervising the students?

Expert Witness Response

In general, a teacher has a duty to supervise students in the classroom and protect students from injuries that are reasonably foreseeable. This means that a teacher has a duty to supervise a classroom and protect students from injuries that may normally occur and injuries that are likely to happen. In many cases, where a student’s injuries are unusual or were unlikely to happen, a teacher may be found to not be negligent when they have left students unsupervised. The teacher in this case definitely failed to supervise her students. The main reason that the teacher might not be held to be negligent in this case is that she did not know and could not have reasonably foreseen that the students would start dueling with pencils and that one student would get hit in her eye by a pencil. In many cases, if a teacher could not foresee that an injury might occur because it is just “merely possible,” the teacher might not be held to be negligent. In this case, the teacher and board of education might not be held to be guilty of negligence because the teacher was not required to anticipate the many types of unexpected injuries that might occur if she was not in the classroom.

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