The term ‘in loco parentis’ is used numerous times in legal parlance. Its scope is very wide, and it can be found to exist under many circumstances. This Buzzle article attempts to explain the term with the help of examples.
Any person who has stood in loco parentis to any child at any point of time in the child’s life is awarded some rights by the law. To cite an example, such a person is able to lawfully obtain visitation rights to the child from the court.
‘In loco parentis’ is a Latin phrase meaning ‘in the place of a parent’. It refers to anyone who is standing as a parent for a minor, and assuming the responsibilities of the parent. It may arise if the child’s parents are absent, or they have authorized another person to act on their behalf in their absence.
The child does not need to be legally adopted by a person for this relationship to apply. The adult assuming the responsibility of the child must act with such due diligence as the parent/s would, and must prevent any harm to the child insofar as is reasonably possible. If anything happens to the child, and it was a situation that the adult could not have foreseen or controlled in any way, then he/she must give sufficient reason regarding the same. However, if it is found that the child was harmed due to negligence on the part of the adult, then such an adult standing ‘in loco parentis’ will have to face the legal consequences for the same. The following paragraphs provide an in-depth explanation of this term, accompanied by a few examples.
Examples of ‘in loco parentis’
One classic example of in loco parentis is the relationship between school teachers and students. When a student is inside the school, the institution takes on his/her responsibility. For instance, if a child is misbehaving, then the teacher has to take some action. However, the extent of allowable punishment in schools is not defined; it is decided according to the prevailing norms of the area where it is located. There is a higher chance of corporal punishment being used in schools in rural areas than in urban areas. Other examples are counseling a distressed child, and deciding whether a child needs to be held back in any year.
While conducting any sports activity, the coach acts in loco parentis to all the players of his team. He is expected to take proper precautions and reasonable care to ensure their physical safety. For instance, if a child is injured while playing, the coach must get him/her immediate medical attention. If a team member is not in a shape to play due to any reason, then the coach must ensure that he/she sits out. If the player is allowed to play and subsequently gets injured, then the coach will be held responsible.
In Personal Life
Other examples of in loco parentis relationships are foster parents, grandparents, relatives, godparents, etc. If a child has lived with his/her grandparents for any amount of time in childhood, wherein the grandparents were taking care of the child in such a way as his/her parents would, then they are said to be in loco parentis to the child. There is no rule that states that a person must be a blood relative or have some legal relationship with the child for this situation to apply.
Controversies involving ‘in loco parentis’ in Higher Education
In loco parentis came to the fore around the 1860s. Under it, educational institutions started enforcing their ultimate authority over the students while on campus. Strict dress codes were put in place, students were not allowed to voice their opinions, participate in any political movements, or stay out of campus after hours. Things went so far as students not being allowed to eat at cafes or diners other than those that the school/college permitted! The pleas of the youth went unheard, and some courts even stated that they could not override the authority of the institutions.
With the evolving free speech movements around the ’70s, these limitations began to dissolve. The situation that we see today is a far cry from what it was a few decades ago. With the advancement of technology and a change in the society’s way of thinking, students today have substantial freedom to lead their lives the way they want. However, issues like drug use, sexual harassment, people defaming their peers on the internet, and such other harmful activities now raise the question – do the youth of today have a little too much freedom?
Some Landmark Cases
Ingraham vs Wright
In 1977, James Ingraham (14) of Charles R Drew Junior High, a Florida public school, was accused by a teacher of not following her instructions, and sent to the principal, Willie J Wright Jr. Ingraham was asked to bend over by the principal, to be spanked with a paddle, but he refused. He was then forcefully bent over and restrained by the vice-principal and another school official, after which he was paddled numerous times. The beating caused him to suffer a serious hematoma. He and his parents sued the school on the grounds of ‘cruel and unusual punishment’.
The Supreme Court upheld that corporal punishment meted out by public schools did not come under ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ in the Constitution. It also stated that corporal punishment did not require providing any prior notice to the student. The ruling was made in favor of the school.
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District
Five school children, John Tinker, Christopher Eckhardt, Mary Beth Tinker, Hope Tinker, and Paul Tinker, decided to wear black armbands to school to show their protest against the Vietnam war. When the school officials found out about it, they immediately effected a rule prohibiting students from wearing such bands on campus. When the five came to school wearing the bands, they were promptly suspended, and reinstated a day after their protest was scheduled to end.
The Supreme Court ruled that students did not ‘give up their constitutional rights when they entered the school grounds’, and preventing them from wearing black armbands on campus was a violation of these rights. The ruling was made in the favor of the children.
It is now clear that in loco parentis in high schools and colleges is an issue of much debate. There will always be pros and cons to it, and situations that are for and against it will never cease to arise.
Applicability of in loco parentis under FMLA
The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to obtain a paid leave for up to 12 weeks, to take care of any person who falls under the category of ‘covered family’. This category includes a biological child, adopted child, foster child, legal ward, or a child for whom the employee stands in loco parentis. However, the concerned child should be below 18 years of age, or above 18 years of age and dependent on the employee due to any physical or mental disability.
An employee can also claim leave under this act to take care of his/her parent, or any person who stood in loco parentis to him/her. For the act to apply to this case, the employer needs to verify the details of the relationship between the employee and the concerned person, to establish that there indeed was a valid in loco parentis relationship.
Power of Attorney
A Special Power of Attorney for in loco parentis is a document drawn up the parent/s of a child, granting to another person, the power to act as the child’s parent, in their absence. The parents can give a power of attorney to anyone, be it the grandparents, godparents, or any non-relatives, to stand in loco parentis to their child/children and take such responsibilities as they would take.
The term ‘in loco parentis’ has a very wide net, and it is never possible to cover it or define it completely. One thing is for sure though; a child who has people willing to stand in for his/her parents in their absence, is a dear and loved child indeed.