Can You Sue a School for Calling CPS? An Education Law Expert‘s Perspective

As an education law expert frequently asked to weigh in on issues facing families and school administrators, one of the most sensitive questions I receive is "Can you sue a school for calling Child Protective Services (CPS)?"

It‘s a complex issue that requires balancing schools‘ legal duties to report suspected abuse with the significant emotional, legal, and financial toll unfounded reports can have on families. After researching this issue extensively and consulting on related cases over my career, here is my expert take:

When Schools Have a Duty to Report

First, it‘s important to note that schools and teachers are considered "mandatory reporters" under the law in most states. That means if they have reasonable suspicion that a child is being abused or neglected, they have a legal obligation to make a report to CPS.

The "reasonable suspicion" standard is purposely broad — reporters do not need concrete proof to call in a concern. This leeway is meant to give children the maximum protection. Of course, that can leave families feeling vulnerable to frivolous reports.

Penalties like fines or license discipline can be imposed if school staff knowingly fail to report legitimate abuse concerns. So when in doubt, they are instructed to file a report.

Good Faith Immunity

To balance this reporting obligation, laws also grant fairly wide immunity to those making reports in "good faith." As long as the school had honest, well-intended reasons for believing abuse may be occurring given their observations and interactions with the child, the report is likely covered by immunity even if later proven unfounded.

Proving a lack of good faith is the biggest hurdle for families wishing to sue over an unjust CPS call. There is a strong presumption schools act in good faith to protect children. So plaintiffs need significant evidence of malice, dishonesty, or blatant policy violations by the school to potentially rebut this.

Building a Case Against a School

While rare, there have been successful cases brought against school districts over unfounded CPS reports. But the bar is high, given the good faith immunity precedent. Based on past cases, key strategies for building a case include:

  • Proving the school knowingly filed a false or fabricated report, rather than just being overzealous or misinterpreting observations.
  • Establishing a pattern or policy in the district of using threats of CPS to coerce parent/student compliance.
  • Showing past grievances or malice/prejudice by the reporting school staff against the family that implies retaliatory intent.
  • Highlighting substantial lost income, legal/medical bills, and mental health treatment stemming from an unjust investigation.

The more evidence that can be marshaled to show malice and unjustified harm, the greater chance of piercing the school‘s good faith defense.


h2>Past Successful Lawsuits Against Schools
In one landmark case in 2015, Doe v. Smithville School District, a family was awarded over $300,000 in damages after their child was wrongfully seized by CPS based on a teacher‘s uncorroborated abuse claim related to a bruise.

Evidence showed the school violated multiple policies around abuse reporting and made little effort to substantiate the allegations beforehand. The lack of diligence demonstrated a failure to ensure the accuracy of life-altering charges.

Several key factors played a role in securing the family‘s victory:

  • Multiple expert witnesses contested that the bruise was consistent with normal childhood injury
  • Teachers could not keep their story straight about who reported what and when
  • The child suffered severe emotional withdrawal requiring psychiatric treatment

So while difficult, establishing malice and harm through detailed evidence allows the possibility of justice for families harmed by unfounded reports.

Conclusion: A High Bar That Can Be Cleared

The law aims to strike a balance between protecting children from abuse and shielding families from unnecessary trauma. While schools deserve wide latitude to report suspected abuse in good faith, credible proof that policies were intentionally violated or reports fabricated with malice can warrant legal remedies.

Securing such remedies remains rare, but is possible on occasion for grievous unfounded reports. Understanding the standards around mandatory reporting, good faith defenses, and strategies to evidence malice and damages is key for families weighing this option. With concerted legal preparation, justice may be achieved even when the bar is high.

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