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Supreme Court rules Cedar Rapids district liable for assault on student after school

(Radio Iowa) – The Iowa Supreme Court says the Cedar Rapids School District was negligent in its supervision of a student with a mental disability who was sexually assaulted in 2007. The case involved a 14-year-old Kennedy High School student known as D.E. in court records, who was raped by a 19-year-old classmate after skipping the final period of school and going to a private residence.

The victim was in a special education program and was rarely left without supervision. The girl’s mother sued the district, saying the school was negligent because it noted the girl’s absence in the computer attendance system, but did not notify her or take any other action to find the girl.

A jury sided with the mother and awarded her $500,000. The school district appealed, but the Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that evidence showed the school district “acted unreasonably and that its negligence increased the risk of D.E.’s harm.” Justice Thomas Waterman was one of the two who did not support the majority ruling.

Waterman said in his dissent that “the majority’s unprecedented expansion of school-district liability for injuries well outside school activities is unwarranted and lacks any workable limiting principle.” The justices did consider the district’s argument on appeal that it had no legal duty to protect the girl against harm that does not happen at school or during school hours, saying that issue was not raised during the trial.

Justice Waterman said that would allow school districts to argue the point in future cases and was a “saving grace” of the majority ruling.