SOURCE: The Association of Trial Lawyers of America
The Teacher Liability Protection Act:
An Unwise and Unnecessary Federal Intrusion
S. 316, the Teacher Liability Protection Act, would immunize negligent teachers, principals and administrators when their misconduct injures students. Not only would this radical measure make teachers unaccountable to parents, it would preempt the laws of all fifty states with little or no justification for such a sweeping exercise of federal control.
There is no need to create a special "Washington Knows Best" immunity for teachers, principals, and administrators. The states, which for more than two centuries have had dominion over tort law, already have ample protections in place for their educators and administrators. Washington should not dictate judicial policy to state courts and state legislatures, and it should not dictate classroom disciplinary policy to local school boards.
TEACHERS THEMSELVES FIND S. 316 UNNECESSARY
- The American Federation of Teachers states there is no crisis: Jamie Horowitz, spokesperson for the AFT, challenges whether legal immunity is really needed, stating "I donít think fear of lawsuits is keeping teachers from doing their jobs." He says teachers have ample liability insurance either from their union or the school district, or both.
- The National Education Association believes that no problem exists, and that teacher liability is a state issue: "[T]his issue is already covered by state law," says Diane Shust, Chief lobbyist for the NEA. The NEA does not believe that suits against teachers and school officials are a widespread problem or that a federal law is required. If the teachers themselves are not asking for this bill, why should the federal government intervene?
TEACHERS AND SCHOOL OFFICIALS ARE PROTECTED ALREADY
- Teachers and principals do not need federal immunity: The long established doctrine of sovereign immunity shields governmental entities, such as public schools, from liability for negligence. Laws passed by the fifty states already protect teachers and school officials from liability for negligence, including negligent supervision. And as the Justice Policy Institute and the Childrenís Law Center recognized in their joint report issued last year: "[N]either federal nor state courts have shown any significant change in their rulings in recent years concerning legal liability against public school officials in cases where students have been injured by other students or third parties.... Federal courts have yet to impose liability under federal civil rights laws against a school system based on a claim of failure to protect [and] [s]tate courts have, for the most part, also continued to recognize sovereign immunity principles absent egregious circumstances."
- Lawsuits against teachers are rare: Cases against teachers are very rare, and most of those that are filed are based on negligent supervision. However, even these limited cases are predominately unsuccessful because, as a matter of law, teachers are not liable for a student's unforeseeable assault on another student. Boyer v. Jablonski, 70 Ohio App.2d 141, 435 N.E.2d 436 (1980)
- Liability is not the reason principals choose to leave the profession: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it is insufficient salary, not a fear of liability, that explains why "it is becoming more difficult to attract candidates for some principal, vice principal, and administration jobs at the elementary and secondary school level.... The pay is not significantly higher [than for classroom teachers] and does not compensate for the added workload, responsibilities, and pressures of the position." U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, "2000-01 Occupational Outlook Handbook."
S. 316 IS UNFAIR TO FAMILIES
- If the Teacher Liability Protection Act becomes law, corporations would have more rights than parents and children. When a corporation suffers a loss due to the negligent act of another, it can use the courts to recover loss. Under S. 316, parents would lose their rights. If a childís face is burned by acid in a science lab because a teacher was negligent in supervising the experiment, S. 316 might well close the courthouse doors to both parents and child. Justice Biery of the Texas Court of Appeals commented on that very situation: "[I]t is troubling from a public policy standpoint that our corporate citizens have unfettered access to the courts for redress of perceived tortious grievances, but children, whose well-being has been entrusted to fiduciaries known as parents and teachers do not have access...." Duross v. Freeman (1992)
Vote No on S. 316!!