Latest in School Fashions: A Suit

November 29, 1994

A suit filed against the Anne Arundel County Board of Education by a Hanover woman whose son inadvertently was locked in a school bus is the latest in a strange flurry of lawsuits filed against the school system.

In this case, Elizabeth Conlee is seeking $100,000 because she said her 6-year-old son suffered physical and psychological wounds after he fell asleep on the bus and was locked inside by a driver at the end of his shift. School officials say drivers are supposed to check the buses before they get off, but, for some reason, the driver didn't see the sleeping boy.

The courts eventually will decide whether the board and bus company should be held accountable for the mistake, but the incident poses a more serious question about why so many people are suing the school board these days.

Until recently, only two or three suits were filed against the Anne Arundel school board each year. Most of those stemmed from school bus accidents in which passengers, pedestrians or motorists claimed injury.

But in the past 18 months, more than a dozen lawsuits have been filed against the education board. As might be expected, some of the litigation was spawned by the Ronald Price case; the Northeast High School teacher was tried and convicted of having sex with students. But most of the lawsuits have nothing to do with sexual improprieties. They include a suit filed by a former substitute teacher who was removed from the substitute-teacher list; a recovering drug addict who was denied a teaching job; a jogger who tripped over a pipe on school property, and a student injured in a fight who is claiming that teachers failed to intervene fast enough.

No one knows whether the recent spate of school-related litigation in Anne Arundel is a fluke or the beginning of a lasting trend.

We would be tempted to attribute the rise in litigation simply to our increasingly litigious society. Lawyers get on television and encourage people to sue. And the suits play to our desire to avoid responsibility and blame the other guy.

But county lawyers have not seen the same increase in lawsuits against other arms of the government, such as the fire and police departments. We wonder if there's another explanation: Could citizens have grown so contemptuous of the school system that they are venting their anger in the courts over any issue they can find?

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