In a recent case involving a student in Lorain County, the Ninth District Court of Appeals was called upon to decide whether the local school board (Oberlin City School District) could be held liable for the sexual assualt of a student with Downs Syndrome by other students. The court decided that the boy's family could not bring a claim under the state hazing statute, but that the family could proceed against the teachers were had the duty to supervise the students when the complaint alleged that they acted recklessly in failing to keep tabs on the students.
The legislature has enacted a law involving hazing. R.C. 2903.31. This statute defines hazing as doing any act or coercing another, including the victim, to do any act of initiation that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to any person. If someone is a victim of hazing, then that person is entitled to bring a civil action aginst school administrators, faculty members, or other employees, who knew or reasonably should have known about the hazing and failed to make reasonable attempts to prevent it.
The court of appeals ruled that this statute does not apply unless the student is being initiated into some voluntary student group. It does not apply to general assaults against members of the student body by other members of the student body. There must be some voluntary club or organization to which the student was attempting to become a member before the statute applies. The students would be liable for assault, but a hazing claim would not be established against the administrators, faculty, and other employees of the school.
However, the court ruled that the family could proceed with a claim against individual school employees who were alleged to have acted recklessly in not properly supervising the students.