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Not Schools' Job

November 01, 1987

I am an attorney and the mother of a 6-foot-3, 260-pound lineman who graduated from Torrey Pines High School last June. My son currently attends Columbia University and plays on the freshman football team, which has won all its games this season--unlike its varsity counterpart. Several of my son's high school teammates have gained admittance to other leading universities.

Wearing both my legal hat and my mother's halo, I have been following the series of events that has evolved since an alleged physical attack involving several San Dieguito High School athletes. From a legal perspective, I am chagrined to find the schools engaging in patently illegal intrusions by attempting to regulate the non-school-related activities of its athletes.

The California Education Code limits a school district's authority to regulate only school activities and school-related or school-sponsored activities. Schools can hardly be looked toward as a panacea for all of society's ills. Neither should schools assume policies that would place them in the role of regulating activities outside the scope of the school's legal authority. To assume such a regulatory role would serve to broaden the basis of schools' liability.

My mother's halo is rankled by the contention of the people allegedly victimized by the San Dieguito athletes that the school's athletic program instilled violence and hostility in the athletes. My son was instilled with a spirit of competition and the desire to achieve excellence. The athletic program did not foster aggression or antisocial behavior in my son.

The juvenile court system is the appropriate vehicle for determining culpability in the unfortunate incident. Civil courts are available for the adjudication of any attendant civil liability on the part of students and parents. The school district is not, and should not be made, the regulator of off-campus, non-school-related activities.

Attempts by the schools to regulate such activities could result in civil rights lawsuits against the school district. Suits against the school district for unauthorized regulation of students' off-campus activities are more likely to succeed than a lawsuit based on a misguided theory that the school district's athletic program fosters aggression, which resulted in a physical attack upon the alleged victims.

ELIZABETH SCHULMAN

San Diego

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