Can you get assault leave if it was an accident?

Holly Hall was standing in the hall during lunchtime passing period in McAdams Junior High in Dickinson ISD.  She was talking to another teacher, and never saw the kid coming.  The kid accidentally bumped into her, knocking Ms. Hall to the ground.  The teacher had a broken ankle and filed for assault leave.

She got it, but only after appealing to the Commissioner. A school employee can get assault leave (which is paid!) if the person suffers physical injuries due to an assault that occurred while performing job duties.   But the school board denied her request, reasoning that “the event leading to your fall is not considered assault.”  The Commissioner reversed that decision. He ruled that it was an assault.

There are five lessons to be learned from this one.

First, an assault is not necessarily an intentional act.  If I intentionally inflict bodily injury on you I’ve committed an assault. But I’ve also committed an assault if I “recklessly” cause your injury.  In this case, the student who bumped into the teacher was deemed “reckless.”

Second, you have to examine all of the facts before deciding if an injury was caused “recklessly.”  Critical to the decision in this case was the fact that the student was walking backwards, rapidly, in a crowded hallway. He could not see where he was going.  That’s why the Commissioner considered it “reckless.”

Third, the age of the student matters.  This kid was a 7th grader. The Commissioner concluded that the average 7th grader should know better than to walk rapidly, backwards, in the hallway during lunchtime passing period. The same might not be true for a 1st grader.

Fourth, our assault leave statute is a “remedial” statute, meaning that it should be “construed broadly.”  Give the benefit of the doubt to the injured teacher.

Fifth, it’s probably not a good idea to blame the victim.  The school district argued that the teachers in the hallway should have been watching out for students who might bump into them. The Commissioner characterized this argument as “a misplacement of blame for the incident on the victim.”

The case is Hall v. Dickinson ISD, decided by the Commissioner on July 24, 2018. It’s Docket No. 027-R10-01-2018.


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday discusses the timing of a change of placement.