Anti-Bullying Policies, Contracts, Tort Immunity Act
A student and her parents sued the district for injuries allegedly sustained as a result of school bullying. Plaintiffs claimed the district breached a contract with the student by failing to enforce its anti-bullying policies as stated in the school handbook and athletic handbook. Plaintiffs further claimed the district’s actions were willful and wanton because the district allegedly acted with utter indifference and reckless disregard to the bullying conduct.
With regard to the breach of contract claims, the circuit court granted the district’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding that the creation and distribution of student handbooks did not establish the elements of contract formation even though the handbooks stated they “form contracts between the School, its students and their parents.” The appellate court affirmed, noting that the student handbook did not include any specific promise to prevent or eliminate bullying, or to take any particular action in any specific circumstance.
With regard to the willful and wanton conduct claim, the circuit court dismissed this claim on tort immunity grounds. The appellate court agreed, finding that Section 2-201 of the Tort Immunity Act shielded the district from liability because how the district implemented and applied its anti-bullying policies were discretionary acts, not ministerial tasks, as the policies did not mandate a specific response to every set of circumstances. Moreover, it found that such policy determinations involve teachers and school administrators balancing various interests (including student safety interests), which meets the Illinois Supreme Court’s definition of policy decisions that fall within the tort immunity context.