Paul Jackson was a student at middle school in the Roseville City School District. A group of students had been practicing breakdancing moves for the talent show at the school. School officials on campus had seen the students practicing flips as part of their routines. Teacher Alan Hall allowed the students to use his classroom to practice, and even stepped out of the room on occasion, leaving them unsupervised. A student named Uriel Jimenez attempted a flip during one of the times Hall was not in the classroom and was badly injured. Jimenez sued the District for negligence and negligent supervision. The District filed a motion, arguing that even if the court viewed the facts in a light most favorable to Jimenez, the District was entitled to a judgment in its favor.
The parties submitted evidence that Hall had the students fill out the required release forms before he allowed them to use the classroom, but he never instructed them to stop practicing when he left the room, and he never forbade flips, even though many school officials had seen the boys practicing flips. Hall also did not tell the principal or vice principal that he was allowing students to use his classroom to practice. Hall claimed he did not know the boys had been practicing flips and had not witnessed them practicing flips on campus. The trial court ruled that testimony showed that breakdancing can indeed include flips, that Jimenez assumed the risk of injury by voluntarily break dancing, and that the District had no duty to protect Jimenez from the inherent risk of breakdancing. Jimenez appealed.
The court found the District had a duty to supervise students engaged in a potentially dangerous activity. The court also found that a jury could find that the lack of supervision is what caused Jimenez's injuries. A jury could also find that the District did not take adequate steps to communicate and enforce the "no flip" policy that administrators testified was in place. A jury could also find that Hall's lack of supervision by allowing the students to continue practicing even when he left the room breached a duty of care and was a legal cause of Jimenez's injury.
The court reiterated that schools have a special duty to supervise the children in their care. Supervision during recess and lunch periods is a requirement because students need to have their conduct regulated. Teenagers in particular often engage in aggressive and impulsive behavior. Public policy suggests that society does not want schools to allow children to congregate unsupervised in classrooms and engage in physical activities, especially dangerous activities. Accordingly, Jimenez's claim for negligent supervision contains enough evidence to support such a claim, and that portion of his claim is not barred by the release Jimenez signed. Therefore, Jimenez's theory of negligent supervision should proceed to trial.
The court then went on to explain that even if a jury found that Hall's absence from the classroom was too short to violate the duty of supervision, the jury could still find that the District increased the risks of break dancing by not strictly enforcing a "no flips" policy. Testimony from Jimenez's expert witness led the trial court to find that breakdancing did encompass flips. But here, the court found that the same testimony could have been interpreted differently, to lead to a conclusion that only an advanced form of breakdancing necessarily encompassed flips. The appeals court disagreed with the lower court, and found that the testimony did not lead to the conclusion that flipping was an inherent part of ordinary, beginning breakdancing.
Hall stated that he was unaware the students had been flipping during their practices, but other District administrators were aware. If they had told Hall, he may have declined to let the boys use his classroom or to leave them unsupervised. He may at least have told them to stop practicing for any time he was not there to supervise. A jury could find that the school failed to give adequate information to the staff, alerting them that the boys had been practicing flips, and thereby increased the risks to Jimenez. TheCourt found in favor of Jimenez.
Schools have a special duty to their students to keep them safe. Here, even though the students signed a release form, the teachers' and administrators' actions increased the risk of harm to the student. While having strong and clear release forms is important, schools should never forget that those in charge of students, particularly when engaging in dangerous activities, still need to provide an appropriate level of supervision.
Jimenez v. Roseville City School District (2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 594.