Schools, their administrators and teachers are the special parents of minor children while they are in school or attending school activities. As special parents, they may be made liable for acts or omissions of students or pupils which cause injury or damage to another. The obligation to look after minor children and ensure their safety while in school was imposed on schools, administrators and teachers by the Family Code of the Philippines which took effect on August 4, 1988.
Thus, parents who no longer have control over the acts of their minor children when their custody is with the school are relieved of responsibility for the acts of their minor children that result in injury or harm to another student or any other person.
The Family Code laid upon the doorstep of schools, administrators and teachers the obligation to shoulder liability for damages caused by minor students while they are in the school’s custody because they become the special parents of minor students. But when a student or pupil is no longer a minor and causes injury to another while in school, who becomes liable for the damage he causes? The law says that if the child is still unemancipated, and living in the parental authority of his parents, then his parents become liable. However, if a student is already an adult and no longer living with his parents he, himself, becomes liable for any injury or harm he may cause to another.
The obligation of schools over their students was expanded even further by the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 signed into law by President Benigno S. Aquino III on September 12. This law states that all elementary and high school principals and administrators must craft and adopt policies against bullying and must ensure that they are implemented. The new law mandates all elementary and high schools to immediately respond to and investigate when bullying is reported. Apart from imposing disciplinary sanctions on the perpetrator, they are directed to report the matter to the police if the bullying amounted to a crime such as infliction of physical injuries, grave threats, slander, or others. Then they are obliged to carry out a rehabilitation program for the bully and exert efforts to involve the bully’s parents.
Bullying can come in many forms like taunting a classmate either orally or through text messages or by any other electronic means; employing unwelcome physical acts such as pushing, shoving, punching, headlocks, kicking, tickling and using any object as a weapon to cause harm. Bullying can also be committed by the uttering of slanderous statements or accusations that causes emotional stress. Bullying can also be any other act that causes damage to the psyche or emotional well-being of a person.
In many cases of bullying, especially those that are committed continuously over time, while the act may not visibly result in the immediate injury of the victim, the perpetrators and the school may still be liable if no action was taken by the school authorities. In many cases the victim normally still goes home yet, when he can no longer take the bullying, he either falls into depression and can no longer function normally, or takes his own life. Hundreds, if not thousands, of victims of bullying have committed suicide.
Bullying is committed within the school ground itself, places rented by the school for an activity, in its vicinity or periphery, inside a school bus or in bus stops or outside the school through electronic means such s text messages or tweets, etc.
When a school fails to do what is mandated by the Anti-bullying Law, the Department of Education may suspend its authority to operate or be subjected to other sanctions.
Bullying may not seem as prevalent in the Philippines as in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan or other advanced countries where many cases of suicide have been reported due to bullying by their classmates or schoolmates. But the problem does exist and the numbers are growing. The Education Department has reported recently that a majority of cases involving child abuse have turned out to be the direct consequence of bullying in school.
The responsibility of schools, teachers and administrators is immense. Since they exercise special parental authority over children while they are in their custody, they could be held civilly liable for damages caused by their students, in accordance with the Family Code, and may even be suspended from operating their schools under the Anti-bullying Law.
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