Bills help teachers address student discipline

(NASHVILLE, TN), January 26, 2012 — Two bills have been filed in the Tennessee General Assembly to give teachers more authority and protection in disciplining students.  One proposal, Senate Bill 3122 sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Representative Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), would give teachers protection from civil liability when defending themselves or when they have to intervene in a physical altercation.  The other measure, Senate Bill 3116, sponsored by Gresham and Representative Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) gives teachers basic rights to control their classroom and remove consistently disruptive or violent students.

“As I have listened to teachers, I have found they are afraid to even defend themselves if a student gets out of control for fear of liability,” said Senator Gresham.  “This legislation ensures that teachers have this right so they do not have to fear being sued when defending themselves.”

“I am happy to sponsor this legislation in the House”, added Representative Hensley. “This bill will give teachers the ability to remove disruptive students for the safety and well being of the remaining students and will ultimately give teachers more control of their classrooms to improve the learning environment. It will also allow the disruptive student to receive the help they need to learn to be able to control or alter their disruptive behavior.”

Senate Bill 3116 requires local Boards of Educations to establish clearly a complete policy regarding a teacher’s ability to remove a student from the classroom and relocate the student to another educational location for the student’s safety or the safety of others.  The bill allows the use of reasonable or justifiable force as long as it is done in accordance to school policy and Tennessee law.  The bi-partisan bill also allows teachers to intervene in a physical altercation between two or more students or a student and another school employee if necessary to end the fight.

The legislation applies to altercations on school property, as well as at official school functions or sporting events. Under the proposal, the teacher must file a brief report with the principal regarding the situation and actions taken.  The student would then be subject to additional disciplinary action that could include suspension or expulsion from school. Finally, the bill requires principals to support the authority of teachers who take such action if it is done in accordance with the proposed law and the school’s policies.

“I have also found in listening to teachers that many are at a disadvantage in being able to maintain discipline in the classroom due to rules on removal of consistently disruptive students,” added Gresham.  “This not only hampers student progress, but puts teachers at a disadvantage in achieving their evaluative goals.  It would be unfair to expect a fair evaluation when the teacher is not given the resources and support to control disruptive students. Senate Bill 3116 would give teachers the ability to manage their classrooms and even remove a student if it gets to the point where the behavior is persistently disruptive.”

“This will allow our teachers to concentrate on teaching and less on classroom hassles,” added Rep. Brooks.

“Teachers must have the authority to discipline students who are disorderly in order to maintain order in the classroom,” added Gresham.  “We will continue working with teacher organizations, school employees and other education stakeholders as we work to perfect this bi-partisan bill during the legislative process.”

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