An Educator’s Primer on Student Assaults
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education reported that from 2011 to 2012, approximately 20% of public school teachers reported being verbally abused, 10% reported being physically abused, and 10% reported being physically attacked in schools.
In 2009, an Institute of Education Science School Principal Survey on Crime and Safety found that approximately 11% of school principals said that students were verbally abusive to their middle and high school teachers.
It’s a serious problem, but educators have rights and recourse. “While the student has a Constitutional right to a free and appropriate education,” says Kristy Anderson, MSEA’s general counsel, “the administration has the means to protect educators from volatile, disruptive, and potentially dangerous students.”
Where do school discipline regulations come from?
Beginning in the 2014–15 school year, the State Board of Education implemented minimum standards to guide local school systems in their adoption of student discipline policies and regulations.
Local board policies and regulations must remain consistent with State Board regulations, but may be modified by the local board.
What are educators’ options if administrators do not adhere to the student code of conduct or do not address student behaviors?
It is solely the choice of the principal to impose student discipline. Educators do not have the freedom to challenge discipline or its absence. If your administration is not responding to disruptive or dangerous student behavior, discuss the situation with them and ask how to manage the student’s behavior the next time it occurs.
Next, create a paper trail by sending an email to the administrator detailing your understanding of the conversation. This documents inaction and places the liability for any future incident squarely on administration.
What constitutes an assault?
An assault is a threat of bodily harm combined with the present, apparent ability to carry out the threat of harm. It does not require, but may involve, physical touching, which under common law was referred to as a battery.
A verbal assault, without the ability to carry out a threat of harm, must be dealt with through your administration. The classroom teacher should notify the parent and document the incident through a discipline referral.
What if an educator is assaulted by a student with special needs?
By law, any student over age 7 may form the required intent to commit a crime. Special education students, however, may not be capable of intent to commit a crime.
Contract language is helpful in these cases because Maryland’s Education Article does not define assault for the purpose of granting assault leave — it’s left to board policy or contract negotiations.
In some collective bargaining agreements, the local association has negotiated a broad definition for assault as an attempt by a person “to cause or purposefully, knowingly, or recklessly cause” bodily injury to an employee. This contract language has provided assault leave in the case of injuries caused by special education students because the phrase “to cause or…” does not require an intent, only bodily injury.
What if the student is in elementary school?
Criminal assault is criminal assault if the student is over age 7. Employees have the right to file criminal charges; file for workers’ compensation for any injuries, physical or mental; and seek assault leave if there is physical injury.
Are there differences in rights among teachers, paraeducators, and other education support professionals?
Any differences are because of differences in the groups’ collective bargaining agreements. Statewide, assault leave applies equally to teachers, paras, and education support professionals, but there may be differences because of the negotiated agreement.
Should I contact the police if I am assaulted by a student?
It depends on the age of the student, the mental capacity of the student, and the underlying circumstances. In any case, your first steps should be to file a first report of injury and write a referral for the student. If necessary, of course, seek medical treatment from the school system doctor and your personal physician.
If you are the victim of an assault, contact your building representative or local MSEA UniServ director immediately.