Teachers and the Law

Duty of Care
Warrants and Searches
Legal and Moral Relationship
Activity Supervision
Child Abuse


Duty of Care

Teachers are a special section of society. They are responsible for the education of society’s youth. They are also responsible for ensuring that the students within their care are found within the most positive, safe and encouraging learning environment possible. If they cannot secure this, then teachers can be sued for negligence. They have a duty of care towards their students, and if this is betrayed, then teachers have a responsibility to face the consequences.

Teachers have a need for information in their classroom. They have to be fully aware of all learning, behavioral and medical problems that could occur and are responsible to be trained to deal with anything that may occur. From this, they need to be aware of any medications that may be needed during the day and how to administer them, as well as any support services that a student may be availing of. Teachers are responsible to all students equally – while one student or another might avail of their attention more often, a teacher is responsible for them no more or less than they are responsible for students who do not require their attention. If a teacher does not act accordingly to all students, then their duty of care and their responsibilities to all have been infringed upon, and the school authorities are responsible for dealing with this.

A teacher has responsibilities to their students and the families of these students. Teachers are required to protect and care for their students as the parents of these students would. They have a duty of care owed to their students, that was described by a Supreme Court Judge in 1968 as that which

..” the careful father of a large family owes his children”..

The standing of “in loco parentis” has been applied to teachers – they have the rights and responsibilities of a parent while the student in under their care. This is a comparison only, as it is superseded somewhat by the fact that teachers are government workers. However, in some areas, this comparison of teacher to reasonable parent exists and is the ‘norm’. The Supreme Court has used this basis to make rulings on cases involving Teachers and their Students, and parents have grown to expect that when they drop their children off at school, they are being looked after with care and concern.

Warrants and Searches

From this, teachers have many legal and moral rights and responsibilities. One of these is the right to conduct warrantless searches. Teachers are the only professional groups with this right – police officers, for example, do not have this right. The Supreme Court made this ruling in November 27th, 1998. With the ruling, Mr. Justice Peter Cory wrote:

“Teachers and Principals must be able to react quickly and effectively to problems that arise in school, to protect their students and to provide the orderly atmosphere required for learning.”.. 

It is recognized by the courts that teachers and students have a special relationship – one that is not unlike that of parents and children. Teachers must be able to protect their students from dangers and need to be able to do whatever it takes to provide a safe school environment, while maintaining order and discipline in their school.


Teachers also have the right to suspend students from their class, for that class period, if they consider the suspension warranted. The 1997 School Act states:

…” a teacher may suspend a student from a class period in accordance with the by-laws of the Board”. A teacher is required to report such a suspension to the principal “as soon as practicable, but in any event before the end of that school day” [S.36(2)]. Teachers should ensure that they make themselves aware of any School Board by-laws and Board or school policies respecting such “class suspension.”..

This is another way that teachers can foster the learning environment for all of their students, by removing the person who is causing problems in the classroom and distracting from any learning that might be taking place.

Legal and Moral Relationship

Yet with these rights, what responsibilities to Teachers have towards their students? Teachers have the responsibility to foster a relationship of trust – while they have the rights of a parental figure, they must also try to encourage the relationship that a child would have with this parental figure.

Teachers are responsible legally and morally for their student’s well-being and care. They are responsible to ensure that every student in their care receives a quality education. According to the NLTA Code of Ethics,

Teacher -Student
(i) A teacher’s first professional responsibility is to the enhancement of the quality of education provided to the pupils in his/her charge
(vi)A teacher accepts that the intellectual, moral, physical and social welfare of his/her pupils is the chief aim and end of education
(vii) A teacher recognizes that a privileged relationship exists between the teacher and his/her pupils and shall never exploit this relationship…

(i) A teacher seeks to establish friendly and cooperative relationships with the home and to provide parents with information that will serve the best interests of their children…

Activity Supervision

Teachers also have the responsibility to protect their students if they are aware that any harm might come to them. If a teacher could have reasonably foreseen an event and did not act on it, then they are legally liable for the damages that occurred. For example, if a teacher knows that two of their students are planning to gang up on a third, they are legally responsible for any damages that may ensue, as they were aware before the fact of what was going to happen. However, had the teacher not been aware of the plan of the two students, they could not be held responsible for the damages.

Teachers also have a responsibility towards students that they are supervising in activities. In the 1968 case ‘Mckay v. Board of Govan School Unit No. 29’ several precedents were set for teachers, regarding supervision of our of class activities. They include:

  1. For activities which pose inherent risks, there should be sufficient, progressive instruction, demonstration and supervision
  2. Instructors should be qualified in the activities over which they take charge
  3. The administration of a school takes on responsibility for activities which it approves .

Teachers have a responsibility towards their students to ensure that they are prepared and able to handle any problems that may occur when they are supervising an activity. If an activity requires special training or expertise, the teacher has a responsibility to ensure that they have this expertise – otherwise it could prove hazardous for the students involved.

Child Abuse

A teacher has the responsibility, by law, to report any suspicions of abuse. Section of Section 15 of the Child, Youth and Family Services Act mandates:

..”that any person who has information that makes them believe a child is or may be in need of protective intervention shall immediately report the matter to a director, social worker, or a peace officer. ..A teacher involved in such situations is protected under the Act from civil liability unless the report was made “maliciously or without reasonable cause.. It must be stressed that responsibility for reporting the suspicion of child maltreatment to Child Protection authorities rests with any person who performs professional or official duties with respect to a child and who has reasonable grounds to suspect the abuse..”.. 

From this it can be taken that teachers are responsible for reporting any child abuse that they suspect. They have a responsibility past simply informing the principal of their school – teachers are responsible for reporting the abuse to a delegate of the Health and Community services. However, after they have reported this abuse, they are not permitted to contact the parents in regards interviews with the child that may occur on this matter – the responsibility has now shifted to the Health and Community delegate.

The rights and responsibilities that teachers have towards their students make the job of teaching one that is fraught with worries and concerns – ‘am I looking out for the interests of all my students?’, ‘Do my students trust me?’, ‘Am I acting correctly and fairly towards the interests of all?’. However, from all of these concerns, a satisfaction can be formed, where teachers recognize that their actions are forming a positive and encouraging learning environment for all students – one where the students are safe and learning. To quote John Fischer

..”The essence of our effort to see that every child has a chance must be to assure each an equal opportunity, not to become equal, but to become different – to realize whatever unique potential of mind, body, and spirit he or she possesses.”..