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Solicitor believes effect of bullying ruling will be fewer lawsuits

| Friday, July 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

School officials in the Alle-Kiski Valley don't expect a recent federal appeals court ruling to change their policies to deal with bullies.

There are other laws requiring school districts in Pennsylvania to protect students from bullies, according to Thomas King, solicitor for the South Butler School District and other school districts in Butler County.

“When something happens between two kids, school districts must do everything they can to make school safe to come to,” King said. “We still have that duty and obligation.”

However, the new ruling is significant and will impact the ability of the parents of students to sue the school for incidents involving bullying, King said.

“Society today has become very litigious and people don't hesitate to sue one another,” he said.

The ruling from the higher court will dissuade parents from suing school districts for a number of cases involving bullying, King said.

“What the court said is that schools are not responsible for every social ill,” he said.

School districts could potentially still be liable in certain extreme circumstances, such as if a school official knew that something was going to happen and didn't act to stop it, King said.

“But in most of these cases, the law will protect the taxpayers of a school district and district employees when they are acting properly and performing their duty.”

A number of school districts such as Deer Lakes plan to consult with their solicitor and principles on the new ruling, according to Janet Ciramella, district superintendent.

“This ruling isn't going to change how we do business,” said John Pallone, superintendent of the New Kensington-Arnold School District, an attorney and a former state representative.

People in the legal community have known about this case for the last several years, Pallone noted. And, as far as impact to local schools, Pallone believes that the federal court has determined that the district would not be liable in the case of a bullying circumstance.

“However, for us, we hold the value of safety for our students at the highest levels,” Pallone said.

“We will continue with our discipline programs relative to bullying in school, both physical and cyber,” he said.

“I can't imagine that any school district will permit bullying because of this decision,” Pallone added. “How insane is that?”

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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