Hard Lessons

A federal court says schools are not responsible for sexual abuse of pupils

In 1989 two teenage girls reported they had been sexually molested over a period of five months in a suburban Philadelphia vocational high school. Five male students were convicted of indecent assault, and two others pleaded no contest and cooperated with the police. The girls' families sued the school district, arguing that since the state requires school attendance, schools -- like mental institutions and prisons -- have a duty to protect their charges.

The girls lost in a lower-court decision, and a federal appeals court last week ruled against them. In a 7-to-5 decision, the court held that while school officials...

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