Attorney seeks updates to govt. ­Immunity Act for public school employees

Requesting that serious consideration be given to updating the 1964 Act that protects Michigan government workers and public school employees from gross negligence torts, A. Vince Colella, a civil rights and personal injury attorney and partner with Moss & Colella PC, says the Act no longer meets the needs of children who are bullied, have ongoing mental health issues, or are experiencing or acting on suicidal thoughts.

Gross negligence refers to actions that show substantial disregard for safety precautions and singular disregard for the clear risks of harm. Government immunity is the exception for public employees and their designees that may exempt them from gross negligence claims.

"By its very nature, the K-12 school setting has always posed challenges to kids' physical and emotional health. However, the advent and growing use of cell phones, texting and social apps have increased the dangers for many children and teachers who witness troubling behaviors such as crying or acting out, and may say nothing because there are no repercussions to not doing so," Colella said. "The overwhelming majority of teachers and school staff want to protect and nurture students, but those who fail to act to potentially save a child's life need to be held accountable and government immunity doesn't always allow for that."

As one example, Colella referred to a Haslett, Michigan, sixth grader who took his life in October 2016 by stepping in front of a train after school. Despite crying fitfully throughout the school day, and teacher acknowledgements that he wasn't acting like himself, no one called the boy's parents to notify them of his troubling behavior.

"A phone call in this case could have saved a life. The teachers and administration claimed that they were bound by confidentiality agreements not to say anything. Apparently maintaining a confidence trumps the health and welfare of a student. That's not right and it doesn't have to be law," Colella said.

To take action, Colella says citizens should contact their state representative or senator.

Published: Tue, Oct 24, 2017

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