BATON ROUGE–Increasing violence in schools has prompted lawmakers to propose the “Protect Teachers Act,” a bill that would grant protection from criminal liability to teachers who try to break up student-on-student violence.
“Instead of watching two kids kill each other, this allows teachers to stop that from happening,” the bill’s primary author, Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, told the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure Monday.
The committee voted 11-0 to advance the bill, which would grant criminal immunity to teachers who use justifiable defense to stop battery and assault by one or more students. Teachers already have immunity from civil lawsuits when breaking up fights.
Hodges said she did not intend for the bill to protect teachers who abused students, stating that the immunity from criminal charges would apply only to teachers who did not have malicious intent.
She said a top official of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents had expressed support for the bill. Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, criticized teachers’ unions for not openly supporting it.
But others expressed concern that teachers could be hurt in trying to stop fights.
Debra Broussard, a former teacher at Northside High School in Lafayette, said in a phone interview that she had witnessed many fights. The protocol was to call the office staff, who would send the campus police.
“We were told not to try to break them up,” she said. “Many teachers have been injured trying to break them up. We were told to close our doors and not to let our students get involved or film and share the fight.”
She said cell phones have complicated de-escalating school violence because some students would text each other about fights and leave without permission.
Representatives of two teachers’ unions told the Louisiana Illuminator that they want to make sure that Hodges’ bill is not interpreted as compelling teachers to intervene in fights and that all types of school employees have the criminal protection.
Hodges said at the hearing that more and more often, when teachers say stop, it is not enough. Rep. Raymond Garofalo, R-Chalmette, said, “It seems like we have a lack of discipline at school.”
Broussard, the former teacher, agreed that disciplining students who have crossed a line is a must. But she emphasized that there also needs to be more focus on making school a place where students want to be.