A California jury recently awarded a father $2,850,000 after a school district released his son to an unauthorized person who kidnapped the child and took him to Mexico.

The school was aware that the student’s mother had been deported to Mexico in 2010. Thereafter, the child went to live with his father in California. One day a person identifying herself as the boy’s mother called the school and told the office manager that the child had a doctor’s appointment and that she was unable to take him because of work. She informed the school that her boyfriend would pick the boy up to take him to the appointment. The office manager noticed that the boyfriend was not listed as an emergency contact but told the mother that she would allow him to pick the child up anyway as long as he showed identification.

The supposed boyfriend of the mother appeared, presented identification, and was permitted to take the child from school. Unfortunately, the man kidnapped the child to Mexico where he is believed to be living with his mother.

The father sued the school district on behalf of himself and his son claiming deprivation of father-son contact, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury awarded the father $2,000,000 and the son $850,000.

The main reason that the school district was found liable was because it failed to follow its policy concerning the release of students. The policy specifically stated that students would not be released to anyone who was not listed as an emergency contact. The school unsuccessfully argued that a parent’s verbal consent can override the specific policy.

This case represents the importance of steadfastly following school district policies and procedures. The failure to do so in this case resulted in the student’s kidnapping and the school district being responsible for nearly $3,000,000 in damages. The school district’s policy on the release of students was sound. In fact, our office recommends similar language in policy. Exceptions could also be permitted (for instance, written consent from a parent) but any such exceptions should be clearly delineated in policy and the policy must be strictly complied with, especially in the situation where both parents do not have legal and residential custody of the child. Even the best policy is worthless if it’s not followed.