Quick, name one thing that is more prevalent (and socially accepted) in the United States than anywhere else in the world. Did you say violence? If not, you should have. Americans are often seen by the global community as gun wielding, hip slinging, bar fighting versions of our wild west counterparts. Psychologists worry that violent movies are desensitizing American children, song lyrics encourage the kill or be killed mentality, and video games welcome kids to become first-person shooters, mowing down the enemy—whoever that may be. The “don’t *#%$ with me” attitude can serve its purpose in foreign policy, but what happens when it trickles down into the classroom?
A video recently went viral of a high-schooler slamming his teacher to the ground and punching him repeatedly…because he took his cell phone away. Educators, in the position of authority, walk a fine line when it comes to self-defense. If they retaliate violence for violence, they could face felony assault charges and the end of their careers. The government has thought of that, and in an effort to advocate for teachers, a law was passed 13 years ago to protect teacher liability in those exact scenarios.
On January 8, 2002 President George W. Bush signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law. This act allowed teachers, principals, and security officers to take “reasonable actions” to maintain order on school property. That sounds “reasonable,” but in January 2015, Texas State Representative Dan Flynn proposed bill H.B. 868, The Teacher’s Protection Act, which would allow educators to use “force or deadly force on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event in defense of the educator’s person or in defense of students of the school that employs the educator.”
In the wake of Ferguson and the international discussions of excessive force, it is not surprising that many people are balking at the thought of teacher’s being granted “civil immunity” if their actions result in the death of a student. One main hitch is the idea that the teacher is not only entitled to use deadly force to protect themselves and the lives of students, but even school property. Yeah, stealing the school mascot would have been funny, but definitely not worth dying over.
Flynn told Texas Radio Station KETR, “It’s plain and simple; we have teachers who are afraid to defend themselves”, which may be true, but whatever happened to the middle ground? We have police officers shooting to kill when they feel threatened by unarmed assailants, and now there will be teachers (who are already permitted to carry firearms in the state of Texas) that are legally protected from prosecution if they kill a student. The original 2002 act already protects a teacher if they used “reasonable actions” to defend themselves or others, so why has it now become necessary to tack on the phrase deadly force and add yet another level to the violence expected of our country?
There is a reason that children are not intended to be tried as adults in a U.S. court of law. They are hormonal, impulsive, and their underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes make them a little bit scary. Unprovoked assault of an educator, a police officer, or anyone else in a position of authority is wrong, no questions asked. Students that cross that line deserve discipline: suspension, expulsion, even jail, but it does not warrant the death penalty. Senator Flynn may do well to remember due process was not implemented as a superfluous measure put in place to bog down the justice system, but to protect every American’s constitutional rights.