Order in the Classroom: Indiana Teachers Seek Some Immunity

February 2, 2009

Morgan County teacher Angela Williams tries to maintain order in her special education classroom by keeping students from talking out or leaving their seats without permission. But she said she often hears a disturbing response from disruptive students: They say they’ll call their lawyer and sue.

“The threat of lawsuits is very real in the classroom,” she said. “The students seem to be winning.”

Indiana lawmakers are considering a bill that would provide qualified immunity to teachers who act reasonably and in good faith to maintain classroom order. Supporters say the legislation would allow a judge to reject frivolous lawsuits against teachers at the beginning of the legal process, rather than forcing them to waste time and money defending themselves.

Teachers told the Senate Education Committee this week that the bill would send an important message of support to educators. Dan Clark, deputy director of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said the proposal would allow teachers to act quickly to restore order rather than hesitate and worry about a possible lawsuit.

“Teachers and principals are expected to be in charge,” Clark said.

Angie Morgan, who teaches third grade at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, said a student once put her in a choke hold. She said she wasn’t allowed to use a hold or restraint against the child, but another adult entered the classroom and was able to remove the student.

“I have 22 other children in the classroom that are seeing their teacher pinned against the board,” she said. “I knew I could get out of it, but the fear of legal ramifications if something happened to the child was there in my head the whole time.”

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels pushed for the bill on the campaign trail, saying he’s heard from teachers all over the state about their fear of needless lawsuits.

The Senate committee discussed the bill Wednesday but did not take a vote. Committee chair Sen. Teresa Lubbers, R-Indianapolis, said lawmakers may make some changes to the proposal and vote on it next week.

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