A Michigan woman whose daughter allegedly was scratched, pinched, and kicked at school has begun a statewide petition drive to make school districts liable if they fail to prevent violence after becoming aware of potential problems.

Robin Zaas, of Wayne County’s Northville Township, must collect more than 240,000 signatures in order for the proposal to be placed on a November 2002 ballot. Her petition was approved by the state Board of Canvassers in December.

Zaas sued the Northville school district in 1997. In her federal suit, Zaas and her husband Carl alleged a principal and other school officials neglected to stop classmates from hurting their 8-year-old daughter during a six-week period.

The lawsuit was dismissed because of insufficient evidence and because the school district had immunity from prosecution.

The petition seeks to abolish a district’s immunity from civil liability if officials learn about a possible attack on a student at school and do nothing to prevent it.

Stephen Anderson, principal of Amerman Elementary School, countersued Zaas for defamation of character and was awarded $150,000 in an out-of-court settlement with an insurance company representing Zaas.

“Parents want their kids protected,” Zaas told the Detroit Free Press for a story Jan. 5. “If school officials have knowledge of threats and don’t do anything about them, they are negligent.”

Terry Miglio, a lawyer for Northville Public Schools, said the proposed state law amendment would be costly for taxpayers because it would lead to more lawsuits against schools and municipalities.

“Student behavior is extremely unpredictable,” Miglio said. “To hold a district liable for every push and shove is unreasonable.”