Texas teachers would be able to protect themselves from threatening students without having to worry about facing lawsuits or losing their jobs under a new bill filed in the Legislature.
“Ask teachers how comfortable they are in junior high and high school,” said Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, the author of the legislation. “There’s a certain amount of concern if one of [the students] gets unruly and decides to get physical that anything they do [to protect themselves] could make them lose their job.”
Originally, Flynn’s proposal, the Teacher’s Protection Act, included a passage saying teachers could use deadly force to protect themselves and others.
He said he is eliminating the “deadly force” provision because his goal is simply to address classroom safety by making it clear in the law that teachers will not be held liable for defending themselves.
“I’m narrowing the focus so that teachers will not be at a loss for just raising their hands up,” he said. “If someone takes a swing and the teacher even blocks the swing, some say the teacher is being too aggressive.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with guns,” he said. “I want teachers to know they can protect themselves.”
The initial proposal drew national attention as some media outlets described it as a gun bill that would let teachers use deadly force to protect themselves, their students and school property.
Some teachers groups stressed that state law already protects educators who use reasonable deadly force against a student, just as it protects any other person, through the “stand your ground” defense that took effect in 2007.
“We certainly feel Rep. Flynn is trying to give teachers the availability of feeling safe in their own classrooms,” said Monty Exter, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
And that’s important when a teacher might feel threatened, said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.
“I believe that some teachers in some schools do feel threatened,” he said. “Schools are for education, and any students who are disruptive to the education process should not be a part of it.”
Exter said he does hope lawmakers will focus on other educational issues as well.
“We would prefer to engage in a discussion of strategies to improve school safety at the local level by addressing more widespread and foundational problems such as bullying, suicide, dating violence, and students needing emotional and mental healthcare that is not available to them,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that those debates — not to mention discussions about how to fix our state’s unconstitutional school finance system that is structurally incapable of funding the diverse needs of our growing student population — are taking a back seat to media coverage of a teacher ‘protection’ bill.”
A work in progress
Flynn said he has talked to many teachers about this bill.
And he knows there’s a need for it, he said.
In one school district in his legislative district, some students “have attacked teachers on many occasions and they feel threatened,” he said.
Flynn’s proposal would add protections for teachers, said Steven Poole, executive director of the Fort Worth-based United Educators Association.
“We really appreciate Rep. Flynn’s focus on the safety of teachers,” Poole said. “Any force used by teachers to protect themselves sometimes is second-guessed.
“This second layer of protection for teachers is always welcomed.”
Flynn said his bill is a work in progress.
“I don’t know how it will end up,” he said. “But I don’t want a teacher to feel like, if someone takes a swing at them, they have to let them knock their block off.
“We’re trying to bring a common-sense approach. The goal is to make sure teachers don’t feel like their jobs are in jeopardy,” he said. “They’ll be protected from lawsuits or losing their jobs.”
If approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, the measure would take effect immediately if two-thirds of the Legislature supports it. If approved by a smaller margin, the measure would take effect Sept. 1.
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610