• September 11, 2019

“In loco parentis” is Latin and is literally translated “in the place of a parent.” It is a concept that dates back to old English law if not centuries earlier than that (see here at p.6).

When are school teachers acting “in the place of a parent” and what does that mean? What are the legal implications of acting in loco parentis?

Would this place affirmative responsibilities on teachers to intervene, for example, in cases of bullying?

Would this protect teachers from lawsuits for battery if they were to apply physical force on students (spanking or restraining)? (See here (Minnesota Statute, “Authorized Use of Force,” Subd. ((6))).

Historically, according to Prof. Susan Stuart, professor emerita of the Valparaiso University School of Law, this latter scenario has been where the in loco parentis concept has generally come up (as discussed in this linked scholarship) — as a defense rather than imposing any responsibility or obligation.

(However, Prof. Stuart also noted that “English education law did not confine the in loco parentis doctrine to disciplinary authority but interpreted this parental delegation also to require that the schoolmaster act as a ‘reasonably prudent and careful parent.'”)

But, of course, our culture has changed. Over the past 30-50 years, for example, spanking, for example, has gone from common-place to widely condemned for the discipline of children of any age by anyone, parent, teacher, or whoever.

How has the in loco parentis doctrine also changed over the years? (Prof. Stuart’s article’s focus is on student’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures, the in loco parentis defense to such claims, and she advocates that the doctrine be “eradicated like the ubiquitous kudzu.” (Here at p.5).)

What conduct (if any) by school officials should be protected under the doctrine? What conduct (if any) is or should be compelled under the doctrine?

What has not changed for decades is the difficult position that schools, both administrators and teachers, are in with regard to their roles and responsibilities in the discipline and control of students.

This concept comes to mind in the recently filed lawsuit against Independent School District 112, a/k/a Eastern Carver County Schools by students of color for the school system administrators and teachers’ allegedly deficient response to allegedly long-standing and pervasive racism in the schools.

The Plaintiffs claims are brought under federal laws (42 U.S.C. § 1983; 42 U.S.C. § 2000d (pleading a violation of the constitutional right to equal protection; pleading racial discrimination in an institution that receives federal funding)) and under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (here, at pages 42-47).

We take no position on the merits of the lawsuit except to note a few things, which, in our view, are not open to good faith dispute: (1) African-Americans still face outrageous, pervasive, and profoundly harmful racism and hate throughout the United States; and (2) most if not all of the white students who perpetrate and perpetuate this hateful conduct learned it at home.

Putting aside the fact that some Minnesota school teachers and administrators are, in fact, racists, even those with the best intentions have to operate in this legally opaque and confusing in loco parentis role; they have to negotiate how to combat attitudes and behaviors taught to their students by the parents themselves.

One thought on “In Loco Parentis

  1. Stephen Lien

    Wow. This is a very profound, sage reflection on my role as both an educator and as an employee in a public school district in the state of Minnesota. Thank you!


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