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Governor Daniels Proposes Legal Protection for Teachers

Discipline in Schools Is on the 2009 Legislative Agenda

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Governor Mitch Daniels is pitching a proposal that would provide legal immunity to teachers who act in good faith to preserve order in their classrooms or other school settings. If reelected, Daniels plans to ask the 2009 Indiana General Assembly to pass a law to this effect.

Governor Daniels’ Take on the Situation

Here’s what Governor Daniels has to say about why he feels this legislation is needed:

“Students can’t learn and teachers can’t teach in classrooms where kids are disruptive. Some teachers are afraid to restore order when needed because they fear legal harassment. It’s unacceptable that a teacher would have that hesitation.

Ultimately, we need parents to recognize that firm school discipline is in every child’s interest, and support teachers in doing whatever is necessary to maintain it. But for now, we need action to see that no student’s education is damaged by the bad behavior of anyone around him.

In schools today, teachers are protected from litigation when they hand out medicine, but there are no protections for them when they try to prevent disruptive students from disturbing others who are trying to learn.”

Assisting the Attorney General’s Office

In addition to pushing for the new law, Daniels says he would assist the next Indiana Attorney General in this effort by using the office’s statutory authority to defend any teacher who becomes the target of unreasonable litigation.

Examples of Cases Involving Litigation against Teachers

The following are examples of cases in which Indiana educators have been the subject of litigation:

  • A student filed a notice of tort claim and a complaint for injuries against a gym teacher who required the student to do push-ups for an infraction.
  • A student filed claims against school personnel after teachers tried to separate two students involved in a fight.
  • A student sued the school and a principal for attempting to restrain the student when he was separated during a fight.
  • A student claimed she was slapped by a gym teacher, while the teacher maintained that she only gripped the student’s chin in an effort to restore order in her class. A state Court of Appeals recently ruled in the teacher’s favor.

What the Public Has to Say

Public reaction to the proposed legislation has been mixed. Few argue that maintaining discipline in the classroom is essential to an effective learning environment, but while some hail the legislation as long overdue, others question the gray nature of the law, which would appear to offer blanket protection to teachers while affording no protection for students who might be in the right.

Supporters say:

  • The new legislation would give teachers the authority they need to maintain order in their classrooms without fear of unjust legal recrimination.
  • In too many schools and classrooms, students have gained the upper hand over teachers, resulting in a disruptive — even chaotic — environment that is counter-productive to learning.
  • In some cases, student outbreaks have endangered the safety of both students and teachers.

Opponents say:

  • Indiana law already states that school officials have the right to take any disciplinary action necessary to promote student conduct that conforms to an orderly and effective educational system.
  • If a teacher’s actions are questionable, the matter should be left in the hands of the judicial system, which exists for the purpose of resolving such disputes in a fair and just manner.
  • While corporal punishment is legal in Indiana, many school districts have adopted rules which require parental consent to be obtained before corporal punishment is administered. The effect that the proposed legislation would have on these rules is unclear.
  • Given carte blanche, some parents fear that a teacher might abuse the new privilege — and their children.

Both sides agree that teachers have a right to teach and children have a right to learn, without unnecessary disruption. Achieving that goal is the challenge.

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