Court Urged to Maintain School District Flexibility in Responding to Disability Harassment Complaints

September 23, 2015

Alexandria, Va. (September 23, 2015) - The National School Boards Association (NSBA), joined by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE), filed a “friend of the court” (amicus) brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (MD, NC, SC, VA, WV) in SB v. Board of Education of Harford County, urging the Court to uphold the district court’s decision in favor of the school board.

The Court will consider whether a school district may be held liable under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, for the repeated harassment at school of a student with disabilities, although school officials had responded reasonably to all known incidents of harassment against the student. The district court found the lack of a specific disability-related harassment policy was insufficient to meet the liability standard of deliberate indifference given the board’s efforts to address every incident of harassment reported by the student and his parents.

“It’s important to guard against any precedent that would allow a school district to be found deliberately indifferent if bullying or harassment by others continues, despite a district’s efforts to address reported misconduct,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association. “Changing the standard from deliberate indifference to strict liability would rob school districts of the flexibility they need in responding to claims of harassment based on their educational judgments and knowledge of the school environment.”

In the joint brief, NSBA and MABE urge the Court to recognize that the same standards set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Davis v. Monroe, for school district liability for sex harassment, should be applied to school districts accused of violating federal law that prohibits disability discrimination. Under that standard a student seeking money damages must show that the school officials had actual notice of severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive harassment to which they were deliberately indifferent.

“The Court of Appeals clearly should uphold the district court’s decision and refrain from adopting the standards the plaintiffs cite that come from guidance documents issued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for  Civil Rights,” said Francisco M. Negrόn, Jr., NSBA Associate Executive Director and General Counsel. “Upholding the Supreme Court’s standard allows school officials, who are in the best position to develop strategies to create safe learning environments for all students, and to do so, without being needlessly exposed to unwarranted liability.”

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The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is the leading advocate for public education and supports equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. NSBA represents state school board associations and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S. Learn more at


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