U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg wants to make it harder for children and parents to sue teachers over the way they discipline their pupils.
Gregg, R-N.H., was inspired in part by a case in Kingston, N.H., where a teen-ager who had been barred from entering a teacher’s class punched his instructor in the face.
Though no lawsuits have been filed against the Sanborn Regional High School teacher, a spokesman for Gregg said the threat of lawsuits makes it more difficult for teachers to discipline unruly pupils.
The Teacher Liability Protection Act of 2001, introduced by Gregg in February, would give teachers and other educators limited immunity against civil lawsuits when they make reasonable efforts to control difficult students.
“As our schools have increasingly felt the effects of violence, drug use, and a breakdown in discipline, our nation’s educators need to feel free to appropriately and swiftly discipline disruptive students,” Gregg said when he introduced the measure.
Reaction to the proposal has been mixed, with teachers mostly supporting it, while critics say the legislation is redundant because many states’ laws already allow teachers to discipline students.
National Education Association lobbyist Dennis Murphy says any effort to help teachers is appreciated.
“For some reason, America is a very litigious society, and people tend to go to court over every perceived wrong,” he said. “Teachers do hear veiled threats by students and their parents that they’re going to sue them, and as a result, teachers behave with too much caution, and they don’t get the support they need from administrators in disciplinary issues.”
With disruptive behavior becoming more troublesome in the country’s classrooms, teachers need help, Murphy said.
“The level of disruptive behavior has increased, and the degree to which parents support teachers in maintaining order has diminished,” he said. “Too often, parents become civil rights advocates for their students.”
A July 1999 survey by the American Tort Reform Association and the National Associations of Elementary and Secondary School Principals found that lawsuits against teachers are on the increase.
According to the report, 20 percent of teachers spend between five and 10 hours a week in meetings or documenting events to avoid possible litigation.