Legal Rights Of Teachers in Student Assault Cases
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two part series written by Don Meade and Tom Schulz, the attorneys that represent JCTA and its members.
There is nothing more frightening to a classroom teacher than to be trapped in a situation with a student who has become threatening or violent against the teacher or other students. Teachers can be injured while managing disruptive behavior, or when aggression is directed against them. The purpose of this article is to explain the rights, responsibilities and options that every teacher should know in order to protect themselves.
JCPS policy states that the principal should contact law enforcement for acts of violence. (Code of Acceptable Behavior and Discipline.) The District and Metro Police have a Memorandum of Agreement which states the principal will notify law enforcement only in situations where an assault has occurred and immediate intervention is needed to control the situation. Otherwise, principals are to contact the Investigations Office first and let it handle the follow-up.
JCTA supports this protocol as the best practice and recommends following the District’s procedure by handling of the situation first with the principal. Yet experience has shown that often teachers must be assertive about their rights to be protected in assault situations, to counter the natural tendency of principals and the District to not involve law enforcement, and often the media. In emergency situations, or where the principal has demonstrated a disregard for teacher protection, you have the legal right to call 911 and ask for police assistance if under attack or injured by the assault of a student. The teacher has the right to call the police if the principal refuses to do so. The teacher has the right to press criminal charges against the student, and to be assisted by the district in doing so. The teacher’s interests, as a victim of assault, should not take a backseat to either the administrative process or the interests of the violent student. The teacher has a right to talk with law enforcement and to be interviewed on school property about the incident.
FILING CRIMINAL CHARGES
The teacher must fill out a STUDENT/EMPLOYEE INCIDENT REPORT FORM. The form requires information about whether the teacher has been injured, whether the police were called, a report taken and whether the teacher wants to press formal charges. This form is forwarded to the Investigations Unit for follow up. JCTA recommends following this process. Yet the teacher has a right to report the matter to the police and to press formal charges regardless of whether the principal or district supports the action. The principal has the responsibility to contact the police if the student caused, or attempted to cause, physical injury to the teacher, or if a weapon was involved. If there is any dispute, contact JCTA immediately.
The district should provide information and assistance to a teacher who wants to press criminal charges. All students under the age of 18 are subject to the juvenile criminal court system, whether elementary, middle, high school or ECE students. The district’s obligations include accompanying the teacher to court appearances. The time required for any court proceedings is paid leave and not deducted from sick, personal or emergency days. If the Office of Investigations refuses to provide this assistance, contact JCTA. The teacher can directly file a criminal complaint by contacting the Court Designated Workers Office at 595-0036.
REMOVAL OF THE STUDENT
Under Board policy, the teacher may immediately remove the student from the classroom or cause a student to be removed. JCTA receives frequent teacher complaints that students are returned to their classroom. JCTA’s position is that the district has an obligation to provide a safe and secure working environment to the teacher. There is no rule about when or whether a violent student can be placed back into a teacher’s classroom. JCTA expects the district to use proper discretion, in collaboration with the teacher, on this issue. If there is a dispute, contact JCTA.
A grievance can be filed against the principal’s decision to return the student and other steps taken to advocate for a different placement.
LOSS OF WORK TIME
If a teacher is injured through contact with a disruptive student, the medical expenses and lost time are covered by Worker’s Compensation. There are special provisions of both state law and the labor contract which provide that a teacher will not suffer a loss of any pay arising out of a student assault. This means there should be no charge against sick, personal or emergency leave to cover absences for recovering from an assault. Medical expenses should be processed through worker’s compensation and not under the employee’s private insurance. For questions about Worker’s Compensation benefits or assault pay, you may contact attorney Don Meade 632 – 5290 for guidance.
No teacher should live in fear of doing their job. Teachers come into their classrooms every day to change lives. Teachers want to help and assist their students, not turn them into the criminal law system. It is never appropriate for a teacher to be threatened, hit, pushed or attacked. There are circumstances where the rights and protection of the teacher take precedence over those of the students. State law protects teachers by making it unlawful for any person to direct speech (a threat) or conduct toward a teacher while the teacher is performing his or her duties.(KRS 161.190.) JCTA will assist you in assuring that the district does not lose sight of its responsibility toward teachers in situations of assault and violence.