Use of force by teachers….it’s complicated

Once again the Commissioner has reversed the decision of a local school board to terminate a teacher’s employment based on the use of force with a student. School attorneys should study this decision carefully and bear it in mind when advising districts. Here are some key takeaways from the case of Stoneham v. Crowley ISD.

  1. We have a statute that protects teachers from disciplinary action based on the reasonable use of force with a student. T.E.C. 22.0512. It’s a form of immunity for teachers.
  2. This statute is to be given “the most comprehensive and liberal construction possible.”
  3. When the school board considers the matter, it must address the possible application of the statute.
  4. The school district bears the burden of proving that the teacher’s use of force was not reasonable. It’s not the teacher’s job to prove that it was reasonable.
  5. The idea of “in loco parentis” is alive and well in Texas. Citing a case from 1887 (!) the Commissioner notes that “As teachers stand in the place of parents, they have the same protections as parents from allegations that they improperly used force.”
  6. This immunity statute overrides administrative directives and local policy:

When an employee uses force that the employee reasonably believes is necessary, a district cannot take disciplinary action against the employee simply because an administrator directed the employee not to use force.

While school districts can normally take action against teachers for school policy violations, there is an exception for uses of force that qualify for section 22.0512 immunity, which controls over school policy.

In short, the immunity statute provides strong protection for a teacher who uses force to maintain discipline in the classroom.

When a teacher faces termination over the use of force with a student, it’s likely the teacher will testify that the use of force was reasonable and proportionate to the situation. The Commissioner’s decision holds that administrators must view the situation “from the teacher’s perspective.” However, an earlier case adds this:

…this does not mean that the teacher’s testimony must be believed, and it does not mean that if a teacher believed his actions were rational the school district must determine the teacher had a rational belief.

But it does mean that the district bears the burden of proving that the mythical “ordinary and prudent” person, if placed in the very same situation, would have concluded that force was not reasonable.

I’m going to leave it there for today. But tune in tomorrow for more detail about what happened. This case will also be the main topic for our Zoom call tomorrow morning. Hope to see you there!


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Tomorrow: more on the latest “use of force” case from T.E.A.