We still support “in loco parentis” in Texas.

It’s rare for a legal decision these days to cite as a precedent a court case from the 19th Century.  But that’s what Commissioner Morath did as he OK’d a teacher’s use of physical force.  The decision never uses the term “in loco parentis” but that’s what it’s talking about. The Commissioner cited Bolding v. State, from 1887.  1887!!!  That case held:

Teachers have the right, the same as parents, to prescribe reasonable rules for the government of children under their charge, and to enforce, by moderate restraint and correction, obedience to such rules.

That notion of “in loco parentis” is embraced in a provision in the Texas Education Code that protects teachers who use physical force with a student, so long as the force is non-deadly and “reasonable.” T.E.C. 22.0512. What’s “reasonable” is always the sticking point in these cases.

The school district nonrenewed the librarian’s contract based on what the school board thought was unreasonable use of force. The Commissioner reversed that decision, and offered us another reminder of the extensive protections that teachers enjoy in “physical force” cases.  Key points:

1. The statute protecting teachers is “remedial,” meaning that it “is to be given the most comprehensive and liberal construction possible.”

2. The school carries the burden of proof in these cases. The teacher does not have to prove that the force was reasonable. The school has to prove that it was unreasonable.

3. The facts are to be viewed “from the teacher’s perspective.”

What happened here was that the librarian used physical force to deter three 8th grade boys from entering the In School Suspension room. The boys were not supposed to be in that hallway, and were not allowed to enter the ISS room. The librarian, serving as hall monitor (other duties as assigned!) told them to leave, and they didn’t.  One of the boys cursed at him. The librarian “moved this student by pushing him a short distance down that hall toward the office.”

The Commissioner pointed out that the entire episode lasted 26 seconds.  No one was hurt.  The librarian did not hit or slap anyone.  He gave a proper command that was disregarded and disrespected.  Thus the conclusion: the force used, seen from the perspective of the librarian, was reasonable.  The fact that it could have been handled in a better way did not matter. Teachers may not be disciplined for the use of reasonable force. 

The case is Zarsky v. Southside ISD, decided by the Commissioner on September 11, 2019. 


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!