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I'm asking this question for my mother who is a science teacher in junior highschool in france.

Recently during class one of her student (11 yo boy), let's call him Bob, stole a chemical that had been prepared for an experiment. It was pretty harmless but Bob thought it could be dangerous (starch).

Afterward Bob poured the content of the tube in a water jug during lunch. This time it wasn't dangerous and it was noticed before anyone drank from it. The headmaster is inclined to let this go with detention.

My mother on the other hand does not want this guy in her class again. She has some pretty nasty stuff like hydrochloric acid (not pure and she is planning on getting rid of it, but I mention it as an exemple). Even if nothing happened Bob did stole the starch thinking it could be dangerous. It's basically a poisoning attempt but he mistook the dangerous stuff with the harmless stuff.

She is very careful to lock away anything that could be dangerous when it's not in use. If it has to be used she is the only person allowed to run the experiment. Still, she can't keep track of 30+ students at once and she knows that someone dedicated enough could steal something.

She thinks that it's unfair to the other students to stop all experiments altogether because of one crazy guy. But at the same time she is both worried for her safety and the safety of her kinder students.

I have two questions regarding this event:

  • Could she be liable if anything happened even though she is ultra careful?
  • Should she stops running experiment with this class if she can't get Bob to leave the class?

Thanks for your answers!

Edit regarding accepted answer:

Given that she feels that the school is not giving her the means to safeguard her student from "extreme pranker" she decided that she'd just stop any experiment in classes with Bob. (Being liable is only a small part the issue here as she'd be devastated if one of her students was hurt). She hopes she can get some support from other parents. But it's not relative to law anymore as it's more highschool politics.

  • I have one question.... where is the third question? And of course, if the teacher cannot control the children enough to reasonably ensure their safety (within reason), the answer is to make smaller lab groups or have additional teachers. – SJuan76 Jun 8 at 18:11
  • @SJuan76 I made a mistake writing three instead of two, I'll edit the post to correct that. Having additionnal teacher or smaller labs group is not her decision to take unfortunatly. – Lou Jun 9 at 18:59
  • I would have thought that if she has raised the safety concern and been instructed to carry on with Bob in the class then (assuming no negligence on her part) liability will land on the desk of the person who made the decision. – Paul Johnson Jul 23 at 12:24
  • @PaulJohnson She has no paper trail of this as it was discussed in a face to face meeting. – Lou Jul 24 at 15:58
  • @Lou In which case she should write a memo stating her concerns and her understanding of her instructions, give a copy to the boss, and keep a copy. That establishes a paper trail and also ensures that she hasn't misunderstood. – Paul Johnson Jul 24 at 16:39
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The main source of liability would be "for injuries caused by the act 'of things that he has under his guard'" (this article). As stated in Art. 1383. of the 1804 Civil Code, "Everyone is liable for the injury he has caused not only by his act, but also by his negligence or imprudence". Then the question is whether the teacher was negligent in allowing a poisoning to happen. It is much more difficult to judge French standards, since court rulings do not generally create legal principles. To take two extremes, suppose on the one hand that a teacher were to store a bottle of sulfuric acid on the table where anyone could take it. Knowing that some rapscallion might take the bottle and prank someone with it, the teacher might have neglected her duty as a teacher to safeguard students. However, if it is safely locked up and yet someone manages to get into the locker (e.g. they have a safe-cracking device that nobody expects a student to have access to), then she probably would not be liable. The difference comes from whether there is fault in the teacher's choices of action, that is, is that choice something that a reasonable person would know is wrong.

It's not clear from the description how Bob got the substance: finding a means of preventing students from accessing dangerous materials should be the main goal, and probably does not require stopping experimentation. But facts about the school might imply that the risk is not practically controllable (e.g. no locks on the chemical cabinet).

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