Canada: School Boards, Teachers, And Student Fights

Last Updated: June 20 2019
Article by Christine Lau

The responsibility given to school boards and teachers for ensuring the safety of all students on school premises is a cornerstone of our educational system. School boards enact policies and teachers supervise and instil disciplinary measures that regulate student behaviour.

That being said, sudden and spontaneous events, such as violent fights between students, erupt in school hallways on any given day. The continued overcrowding of schools in certain pockets of Ontario compound the occurrence of student fights and force school boards to take reactive measures in this regard.

It would seem a precarious standard to hold school boards and teachers liable for the consequences of every single student fight. After all, teachers are not the prison guards to a population of student inmates, despite the wishes of many parents.

In Tilli v. Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice drew a line with respect to the liability of school boards and teachers for fights that break out on school property.

Explored in further detail below, the liability of school boards and teachers for fights on school property depends on factors such as whether the school could have anticipated the fight and what supervisory protocols the school had in place.

The Fight

Two 15-year old students started a "consent fight", denoted by the willing participation of both students at the outset, in between their period 1 and 2 classes in the second floor hallway of St. Jean de Brébeuf High School ("St. Jean de Brébeuf") in Hamilton. The police and the paramedics attended the scene of the incident, with the defendant ultimately pleading guilty to criminal charges. The plaintiff advanced a claim for personal injuries sustained as a result of the fight.

The plaintiff ("Ms. Tilli"), the defendant ("Ms. DiTomaso"), and the multiple students who witnessed the fight all had different stories of how the fight played out. The Court accepted the following version of events. Ms. DiTomaso slapped Ms. Tilli in reaction to various derogatory names Ms. Tilli called her that morning, as well as on previous occasions. Hair pulling, kicking, and shoving ensued, which ended in both students falling to the floor, with Ms. DiTomaso on top of Ms. Tilli.

The fight, however, stopped being consensual when Ms. DiTomaso used unreasonable and grossly excessive force on Ms. Tilli, by grabbing her head and banging it forcefully on the tiled floor more than once. The Court found Ms. DiTomaso to be the winner of the fight the moment she landed on top of Ms. Tilli. In that moment, Ms. DiTomaso had total control and the discretion to not inflict further force, an unnecessary step to curtail a dissipated threat and beyond the justification of self defence.

Zero Tolerance Policy

St. Jean de Brébeuf has a history of violent student behaviour on school grounds. The high school had a zero tolerance policy for violence at the time of the incident, which it educated all of its students on, in accordance with the Safe Schools Act (which came into effect in September 2001), which prescribes schools with authority to enforce strict disciplinary measures.

Supervision Policy

The fight occurred in the hallway during the span of the three minutes in between classes. The high school had a supervision policy in place: during classes, unassigned teachers supervised certain hallways but in between classes, no supervision was required, as numerous teachers walked the hallways in transition.

The second floor hallway had 38 teachers in total transitioning between period 1 and 2 classes the morning of the fight, with at least 16 teachers who would have passed by the area of the incident.

The high school also had surveillance cameras to monitor the premises.

Standard of Care

The standard of care is that of a careful and prudent parent, in this case, that of a parent of a 15 year old teenager. Even a careful parent does not, and perhaps more accurately cannot, constantly supervise a 15 year old teenager.

Ms. DiTomaso and Ms. Tilli did not have a predisposition to violence towards each other. These students were also aware of the high school's zero tolerance policy on fighting and the serious consequences, which would stem from any breach of this policy. Ms. Tilli led no evidence as to what measures the high school should have implemented to prevent the fight.

The Court's Decision

Justice Arrell found Ms. DiTomaso to be 60% liable for the damages inflicted with the use of excessive force, and Ms. Tilli to be 40% liable for provoking the fight, which was tantamount to contributory negligence.

The Court dismissed the action as against the teachers and Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, on a with costs basis, having found no liability on the teachers and the school board.

Justice Arrell set out:

"It is not lost on this court that this was a sudden and spontaneous event that escalated and finished in approximately 30-45 seconds. Only by having a teacher posted in the exact area of this incident, at the very time it occurred, could the school perhaps have prevented the fight from occurring. Such a standard is not reasonable...".

Practical Considerations

Although the Court in this case found no liability as against the school board or the teachers at the school, schools boards and schools should be cognizant of the supervisory and disciplinary measures that they maintain to prevent student injuries.

It may be prudent to install and monitor surveillance cameras in crowded areas, where noise typically prevents incidents from gaining immediate attention, and to assign designated teachers to monitor different areas of the school, as they transition between classes.

In the past decade, some schools have been softening their zero tolerance policies in consideration of mitigating factors, which advocate for the application of discretion to void or limit mandatory disciplinary measures. Perhaps this should be reconsidered.

Although, in this case, the students did not have a record of violence, teachers and administrators should be careful to not turn a blind eye to potential disputes that can develop between students.

Further, schools should keep a well documented record of supervisory protocols/plans and disciplinary events.

Incidents between students cannot be completely prevented. However, school boards can minimize the risk of legal liability by having appropriate policies in place and by ensuring that those policies are followed.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions