Anti-Bullying Policies, Tort Immunity Act
Student Elizabeth Castillo (Castillo) and her family sued the district after Castillo was physically attacked by another student, Estrella Martinez (Martinez) off-campus. Castillo alleged that the district: 1) failed to discipline Martinez for her on-campus harassment of Castillo, in violation of the School Code’s bullying prevention statute, and 2) failed to prevent Martinez’s off-campus attack when it should have taken “supervisory” actions, such as calling Castillo’s parents or the police, or allowing Castillo to remain at school to avoid Martinez.
Castillo’s failure to discipline claim involved Section 2-201 of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10-2-201), which applies to public employees performing discretionary functions. The Court noted that the School Code’s bullying prevention statute “only mandates that every school district create a policy on bullying; it does not mandate that a school respond to a particular instance of bullying in a particular way.” Because implementation of the district’s anti-bullying policy required both discretion and decision making by school officials, the Court found that the district was immune under Section 2-201 of the Tort Immunity Act.
Castillo’s failure to prevent claim involved Section 4-201 of the Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/4-201), which provides that neither a public entity nor its employees are liable for failure to provide police protection service. Illinois courts have repeatedly held that school officials are immune from suit when a student is harmed off-campus, even if school officials knew that violence was likely. Castillo attempted to distinguish her case by arguing she did not allege the district should have acted in the role of police to prevent Martinez’s attack, but that it should have protected her through “supervisory” actions. The Court did not buy this argument, stating there is no case distinguishing Castillo’s suggested actions as “supervisory” instead of “police,” and that the “supervisory” actions Castillo suggested could “inevitably slide into the area of school discipline,” which is covered by Section 2-201 immunity.