Betrayed Principals

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The public school experience sure has changed since today's parents put in their time. Staples such as gym class, driver's ed, wood and metal shop, dances, and recess have been curtailed or eliminated at many schools. Elementary- and secondary-school principals across the nation blame liability concerns for those changes, according to a survey conducted by the American Tort Reform Association in conjunction with two school principal associations.

The survey, the results of which were released in September, was sent to 5,000 principals, and 523 responded to the four-page questionnaire. Respondents reported spending as many as 10 hours a week documenting events or attending meetings to avoid lawsuits.

Overwhelmingly, the principals said they tailor their administrations to avoid lawsuits. They said insurance concerns mean fewer choices and fewer programs for students. A quarter of the principals said they've had a lawsuit or out-of-court settlement in the last two years, compared with only 9 percent in 1989. That number probably will rise further: 60 percent of the respondents said they expect an increase in litigation as a result of the May 1999 decision by the Supreme Court making schools liable for student-to-student sexual harassment.

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