Editorial comment by Richard Clem, 8/15/17: I see this web page is getting a lot of hits today in anticipation of the upcoming eclipse. I hope nobody is using this case as evidence that kids should be locked inside during the eclipse. If that's why people are citing this case, then it's a damn shame. This school district was being sued in what was arguably a frivolous lawsuit. The lower court dismissed it for one reason, namely that the school had no duty whatsoever to supervise kids after school. The Florida Court of Appeals reversed that ruling, but they did not rule that kids should be locked inside during eclipses. This kid was doing something foolish. Maybe the teacher should have stopped him, and they sent the case back for the lower court to decide whether he should have, given all of the circumstances.
You most certainly should take your kids outside to see the eclipse. If humanly possible, you should take them to the path of totality. And if your kids' school plans to lock them inside that day because they're afraid of getting sued, then you shouldn't send them to school that day.
At my blog, I have more information about the eclipse. To see all of my posts about the eclipse, you can click on this link. But the most important article is this one about why you need to take your kids to see the eclipse. You might also find the following links interesting:
Use some common sense, follow some simple safety precautions, and don't obsess over every thing that can possibly go wrong.
In particular, don't obsess over how to avoid every possible frivolous lawsuit. If you're worried about lawsuits, then maybe you should worry about getting sued for educational incompetence by depriving the kids of the most amazing science event of their lifetime.
Read this case summary if you want, but for heaven's sake, don't deprive your kids of the educational opportunity of the century. If the school is going to lock them inside that day, then keep them home. And if humanly possible, take your kids to see the total eclipse.
I see that most of the visitors to this page are coming from Facebook. I'd like to see what discussion prompted such interest. I'd appreciate if someone could send me a link. You can e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Nannette Versprill, et al., v. School Board of Orange County Florida. FL education law: school's duty to supervise.
The plaintiff was a fourth grader who received damage to his eye after looking at a solar eclipse. After he left school at the end of the regular school day, but while he was still on school property, he saw one of his former teachers and a group of students in an extended day program. The students were outside to watch the eclipse using two sheets of construction paper, one with a pinhole projecting to the sheet on the ground.
The teacher denied that he gave the plaintiff permission to participate or that he was even present with the extended day students. The plaintiff viewed the eclipse by looking directly at the sun through the hole in the paper. He was later diagnosed with solar retinopathy, and his vision was reduced from 20/20 to 20/40.
The first question on the jury's special verdict was whether the teacher had given permission to the student to participate in viewing the solar eclipse with the extended day class. The jury responded in the negative, resulting in a judgment for the defendant. The plaintiff objected to the jury instruction, and appealed to the Florida Court of Appeals.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the jury instruction implied a duty of supervision that was too narrow. In other words, it implied that without permission to participate, there was not duty to supervise. The appeals court agreed that this was not an accurate statement of the law, and that the jury may have been confused or misled by the instruction.
The court held that when the school or one of its employees was aware of the student's presence on campus, they were obligated to supervise, independent of whether the student was engaged in a school sponsored activity.
For these reasons, the appeals court reversed and remanded.
641 So. 2d 883 (Fla. Ct. App. 1994).
Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.
Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).
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