Does this nation really need more whacked schoolchildren?

To fully appreciate the Teacher Protection Act, proposed for the nation by Governor Bush, one should have at least a passing familiarity with its antecedent, Texas Family Code 261.001. That legislation was written to give maximum legal cover to adults who mistreat children. Its child-protective features do not come into play until after a child has been seriously injured.

Were an attorney to draft a contract for the purpose of protecting an adult client’s interests as well as 261.001 protects children's interests, that attorney would be fired immediately and be unable to collect a fee for so worthless a document. Read it. I've italicized the mush words. Texas Family Code 261.001 defines abuse as:

“...physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child, or the genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child, including an injury that is at variance with the history or explanation given and excluding an accident or reasonable discipline by a parent, guardian, or managing or possessory conservator that does not expose the child to a substantial risk of harm.”
The drafters of 261.001 had a great deal more to say about what child abuse isn’t than what it is. Anyone searching the above jargon for something solid that contributes to the welfare and safety of the children will come away empty-handed. But Texas lawmakers knew exactly what they were doing. Had they honestly stated what was on their minds, they’d have simply written, “If the child isn't in the hospital, it isn't abuse.”

Now, Governor Bush wants to apply the Texas standard nationally. He offers voters the following:

"The Teacher Protection Act will shield teachers, principals, and school board members acting in their official capacity from federal liability arising out of their efforts to maintain discipline in the classroom, so long as they do not engage in reckless or criminal misconduct. In addition, plaintiffs who bring meritless claims in federal court challenging teacher and principal disciplinary actions would be liable for the legal expenses, including attorneys’ fees, incurred in the defense of the teachers and principals." (Source: "Education Policy of George W. Bush, Part III: The True Goal of Education," Page 6 at
As defined by law, whacking a Texas schoolchild's pelvic area with an instrument is not "reckless and criminal conduct." According to the latest figures from the Office for Civil Rights l998 Elementary and Secondary School Civil Rights Compliance Report, 2.07% of Texas schoolchildren got whacked in the pelvic area by teachers and school principals during the 1997-98 school year. That's 81,373 kids whacked. For the benefit of readers who aren't sure what I mean by "pelvic area," it's in the general vicinity of the anus and genitals. For readers who are wondering what I mean by "whacked," click on Whacked.

Jordan Riak

Tom Johnson's letter of Feb. 9 to Governor Bush. Mr. Johnson's questions remain unanswered.

Dear Gov. Bush:

Outlining your educational platform in New Hampshire last November, you advocated a federal "Teacher Protection Act" which would shield teachers and school officials from discipline-related "junk lawsuits" (to use your term).

This proposal brings to mind a recent court case from your own state of Texas, which was ruled upon during your tenure as governor. On May 4, 1993, eight-year-old Mark Ramirez arrived late to class at Bruce Elementary School in Houston. For this infraction, he was beaten on the buttocks so severely that he soiled his clothes and was left with visible bruises. His mother, Alice Ramirez, was summoned by the school nurse to come take him home.

Mrs. Ramirez sought redress for her son by suing the teacher and the school district for assault and gross negligence. State District Judge William Bell, however, summarily threw the case out. Explaining his decision, he told attorneys, "It's silly to be wasting our time and taxpayer's money. We can have people running down here to sue every time there's a spanking." (source: Houston Chronicle, 8/10/96). In addition to dismissing her case, Judge Bell fined Mrs. Ramirez $15,000 for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

Would the ruling of this Texas judge be consistent with the legal standard you seek to impose on the judiciaries of every state? Would your proposed Teacher Protection Act extend this degree of legal immunity to teachers and school officials across the nation?

Tom Johnson,
Special Projects Coordinator
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education [PTAVE]

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