Education & Workforce Development

Commentary: If they can't teach 'em, let's sue 'em!

March 5, 2007

I have always been a big believer in education. It's something I got from my parents. They told me that, since I wasn't born into money and had no athletic ability, I better get a good education if I wanted to improve my chances of being successful in life.

I've been very fortunate that the teachers I've had over the years, from my public grade and high schools in Chicago to graduate school to law school, have been awesome. In fact, if I had to pick one job to do the rest of my life, it would probably be teaching. Many teachers are dedicated professionals who love what they do.

The problem with modern education, though, isn't the teachers, but the administrators and pointy-headed bureaucrats who tend to make up middle management. They set the policies, implement the rules, and are ultimately responsible for the education our kids are fed. That's why, and it pains me to say this, the only way we will ever get real school reform in Indiana is to start suing schools for malpractice.

If one of my attorney or physician friends takes your case and screws up because of negligence, in most cases you have a cause of action against him. If an accountant, plumber or mechanic provides you a service you pay for and he screws up, you can take him to court. If this is good for the rest of the world, why not public education?

We have always held schools accountable when they screw up. If a school employee abuses a student, we can sue. If a child is hurt on school property and the school was negligent, we can sue. And if a student is misdiagnosed with a learning disability, and the school was negligent in the diagnosis, we can sue. So if a student gets a bad education, and the school district is negligent, why not allow us to sue?

The stats are already there to back up the claim that schools aren't doing the job. Indiana has a statewide graduation rate of about 70 percent and one of the lowest college graduation rates in the country. Even Eugene White, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, gave his own high schools and middle schools an "F" based on classroom performance.

What makes matters worse are certain members of the Indiana General Assembly, who want to limit choice for parents to get their students out of schools that aren't performing well. House Democrats stifled funding for charter schools recently, saying charter schools don't take special education students and keep students only long enough to get state dollars and then kick them out. If that is part of the logic, that the current public school system must be protected from competition, then at least give parents the power to take bad schools to court.

And if not parents, how about employers? If you hire someone on the pretense he got a good education and he turns out to be an idiot, why shouldn't you be allowed to sue? Or if you're a student and got a horrible education, why not take the school district to court because your diploma is worthless? And if you really want to get interesting, we all know there is a direct correlation between property values and the school districts they sit in. Got a bad school district that's lowering your property values? Sue!

Now, like with any other negligent claim, you have to prove you weren't responsible for the injury to get damages, and that's the way it should be. But if schools continue to fail in Indiana and lawmakers continue to protect their virtual monopoly on tax dollars, it's time to take them to court. I think I'll go place a call right now to Judge Judy!



Shabazz is the morning show host on WXNT-AM 1430 and of counsel at the law firm of Lewis & Wilkins. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at ashabazz@ibj.com.
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