by Elizabeth Troutman
The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that schools cannot be held accountable for off-campus incidents of violence between students.
Diannah Dinsmoor, the mother of high school student Ana G., who was shot and killed by her classmate in 2014, brought claims for wrongful death, negligence, and gross negligence against the Deer Valley Unified School District and the City of Phoenix in Dinsmoor v. City of Phoenix. Dinsmoor argued that school officials knew that Ana and her classmate, identified by court records as Matthew B., were dating and that Matthew had a history of violence with an ex-girlfriend, known on court records as Raven. Ana met Matthew at a friend’s house after school where he shot and killed her and then himself.
The superior court ruled on Friday that the defendant did not owe Ana or Dinsmoor a duty as necessary to support Dinsmoor’s claims.
Justice Ann Scott Timmer, writing for the unanimous court, said that the “special relationship” between a school and its students does not place responsibility for Ana’s death on her school.
“Once students leave the school’s control, the special relationship ends, and students are simultaneously released to their parents’ or guardians’ full custodial care,” she wrote. “At that point, the school is relieved of any duty to affirmatively protect students from any hazards they encounter.”
Timmer said there are exceptions in which schools maintain responsibility for their students’ safety off-campus, such as an injury to a child caused by a school’s decision to place a bus stop on a busy street or a school allowing students to leave the property when an active shooter is in the area. However, she wrote that Dinmoor’s case does not constitute an exception.
“People do not generally have a duty to protect others from harm,’’ Timmer wrote. “Nevertheless, the school-student relationship imposes an affirmative duty on schools to protect students from unreasonable harm.’’
She said that the main consideration in the case was whether “a known and tangible risk of harm” to Ana was present while she was under school custody.
“In such scenarios, students are deprived of the protection of their parent, and the school has an affirmative duty to protect them from such risks until they are safely released from the school’s custody and control,” Timmer wrote.
David Abney, appellate attorney for Dinsmoor, argued that the Court erred by conflating duty and standard of care, what one must do to fulfill their duty. He said that the school knew that Ana was in danger and should have done “something proactive to protect her” while she was in their custody.
“The duty for the school district is always the same: to protect the students that are within their custody and control,” Abney told The Center Square.
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