During the 2000 presidential debates, then candidate George W. Bush announced his support for a federal "Teacher Protection Act," similar to a 1995 law he backed in Texas that immunizes teachers who hit students for disciplinary purposes. In his "Education Policy" statement, he said he would "[e]nact the `Teacher Protection Act' to 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 attorney's fees, incurred in the defense of the teachers and principals.”
The following Texas case shows how Bush's proposal would work: In May 1993, a Bruce Elementary School student was beaten with a piece of wood by his music teacher for being late to class. The attack caused the boy to defecate in his clothes and left bruises. The boy's mother sued the Houston Independent School District and the teacher, but the judge dismissed the case, slapping the mother with a $15,000 penalty for filing a frivolous lawsuit. Flynn, George, “Paddling dismissed by judge,” Houston Chronicle, August 10, 1996; Riak, Jordan, “Texas: No justice for schoolchildren,” found texas.htm.
Bush's endorsement of corporal punishment runs counter to the views of lawmakers in most states.
There is a strong correlation between states that immunize teachers for corporal punishment and the number of children that are hit.
- Twenty-seven states now ban corporal punishment outright. These are: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island (banned by every school board in the state), South Dakota (banned by law rescinding authorization to use), Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools, http://www.stophitting.com/NCACPS.
- Of the 23 states that do not ban corporal punishment, all but six leave the decision to allow it to the discretion of local school districts. In the following 10 states, more than half of all students are in districts with no corporal punishment: Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools, www.stophitting.com/NCACPS.
Teachers say that the best way to restore discipline in classrooms is not to immunize them from lawsuits but to reduce class size.
- Teachers are immune from liability for using corporal punishment in the following six states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Wyoming. Except for Wyoming, each of these states ranks among the 10 worst states, by percentage, of students struck by educators during the 1997-1998 school year. The top three states were Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama. Similarly, these states rank among the 6 worst states in terms of the most number of students hit. Texas ranks #1, with 81,373 children hit that year. National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools, based on 1998 Elementary and Secondary School Civil Rights Compliance Reports compiled by the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, www.stophitting.com/NCACPS.
- In a statement responding to Bush's proposal, Bob Chase, President of the National Education Association, said, “Our members tell us the single thing that they would like, to restore discipline and order to classrooms, is to lower class size. That's the proven way to improve discipline and learning. Governor Bush's proposal is simply a call for another piece of federal legislation. We'd rather the President of the United States focused on proven solutions such as class size.” Telephone interview with Becky Felischauer, NEA Senior Professional Associate, January 2, 2001, confirming quotation cited by Burns, Jim, “Bush wants Congress to pass teacher protection act,” October 18, 2000, CNSNews.com, found at http://childrenfirstamerica.org/DailyNews/00Oct/10180011.html.
- Jamie Horowitz, spokesperson for the American Federation of Teachers, said, “I question how much of an issue this really is.... Not only do we provide our members with million dollar liability insurance, but also the school districts provide them with liability coverage, generally....Even though we provide our members with million dollar coverage, we've never had a million dollar client. I don't think fear of lawsuits is keeping teachers from doing their jobs, and so I question the extent of the problem” (emphasis added). Telephone interview with Jamie Horowitz, January 2, 2001, confirming quotation cited by Burns, Jim, “Bush wants Congress to pass teacher protection act,” October 18, 2000, CNSNews.com, found at http://childrenfirstamerica.org/DailyNews/00Oct/10180011.html.
See "A VISIT TO GOODLAND: A Three-minute Lesson in Understanding Teacher Liability Protection", By Jordan Riak at www.nospank.net/tlp.htm
See "The Teacher Liability Protection Act: An Unwise and Unnecessary Federal Intrusion" at www.nospank.net/tlpa.htm