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Teachers have responsibilities beyond the act of just teaching. They must participate in professional development sessions, instruct students using a variety of research-based strategies, and maintain up-to-date student records. One of the most important teacher responsibilities is to maintain a welcoming and safe learning environment. In many teacher evaluation instruments, a teacher is assessed on his or her ability to uphold a secure and orderly environment. The premise behind this teacher duty is that learning cannot take place when students feel threatened.
Due to the unpredictability of the school environment and a teacher’s need to maintain order, Congress passed the Paul D. Coverdell Teacher Protection Act of 2001 (“Teacher Protection Act”). Signed into law on January 8, 2002 by President George W. Bush, the purpose of the law is to prevent education professionals from being sued over “reasonable actions [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][taken] to maintain order, discipline, and an appropriate educational environment.” The Teacher Protection Act applies not only to teachers but all principals and school professionals (i.e. school board members) employed by the district.
Not all states must comply with the requirements of the Teacher Protection Act. The Act only applies to states that receive Title I funding and compliance with the Act is a prerequisite to receive such federal funding.
The overall goal of the Teacher Protection Act is to reduce the number of lawsuits brought against teachers, administrators, and other personnel based on decisions made to maintain order on school grounds. The Act limits liability if the following five conditions are met.
- The district employee was acting within the scope of employment;
- The actions of the district employee is in conformity with federal, state, and local laws;
- The district employee was properly licensed or certified in the jurisdiction where the activity occurred;
- The harm to the student was not caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious indifference to the safety of the student; and
- The harm was not caused by the operation of a motor vehicle for which the state requires a license and insurance.
So, acting outside the scope of employment or engaging in reckless conduct will remove the shield of the Teacher Protection Act.
The limited liability provided by the Teacher Protection Act is an affirmative defense. This means that it must be asserted affirmatively in the pleadings by the defendant-district employee. Students, or parents bringing lawsuits on behalf of their minor children, often try to remove the shield provided by the Teacher Protection Act by arguing that the defendant-district employee is not entitled to immunity. This was the argument of the parents in Morrone v. Prestonwood Christian Academy (2007). In Morrone, parents of a minor student sued the school, alleging that minor’s kindergarten teacher engaged in verbal and emotional abuse. The teacher raised the affirmative defense provided by the Teacher Protection Act. The parents, on the other hand, refuted the applicability of the Act. One of the arguments of the parents is that the teacher engaged in criminal misconduct by her harsh treatment of her students. The court reasoned that although the teacher’s treatment of her students was not ideal, it did not amount to criminal misconduct. So, despite the availability of the immunity provided by the Teacher Protection Act, plaintiffs will likely argue that the immunity does not apply.
Teachers are often called to make split-second decisions in order to protect themselves and their students. Congress has recognized the need to make quick decisions without unnecessary hesitation by enacting the Paul D. Coverdell Teacher Protection Act. Although the Act does not apply in all jurisdictions, it is a step towards protecting teachers from unnecessary lawsuits stemming from actions within the scope of employment.
Do you believe that the Teacher Protection Act is a shield protecting teachers or a sword limiting teacher responsibility?[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]