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THE SPIT WAD
Q: During lunch period in the high school cafeteria, another student
threw a foul-smelling spit wad at me. I went over to his table, and he
challenged me to a fight. Instead, I returned to my table. At the end of lunch
period, in order to go to my next class, I went out to the stairwell. With three
friends, he blocked my access and proceeded to punch and kick me for half a
A: In assuming physical custody and control over its students, a school
effectively takes the place of parents and guardians and is liable for foreseeable
injuries proximately related to the absence of adequate supervision.
Generally, notice to the school of prior similar conduct is required: an injury
caused by the impulsive, unanticipated act of a fellow student ordinarily will
not give rise to a finding of negligence.
Perhaps the school district had specific knowledge of your assailants’
dangerous propensities, such as a disciplinary history. Perhaps the
general security measures at the school were inadequate, with too few safety
officers in the vicinity of the cafeteria and stairwell, balanced against the
frequency of violence between class periods and after lunch.
Seemingly, there was an absence of security in the stairwell precisely
when it would be expected that a large number of students would be exiting
the cafeteria and using that stairwell, and adequate supervision would have
prevented this catastrophe.