PROBLEM: In 1989 and 1999, ATRA sponsored and released separate surveys documenting the impact of frivolous litigation on America’s schools. The most recent survey found:
65 percent of those responding noticed a difference in general in the kinds of school-related programs offered because of liability concerns and costs; 20 percent of those responding reported spending 5-10 hours per week in meetings or documenting events in efforts to avoid litigation. Six percent of that number at 10-20 hours per week; 25 percent of those responding had lawsuits or out-of-court settlements in the last two years; and 57 percent of those responding reported that the suits affected school-related programs for students or teachers, among other findings.
ATRA’s POSITION: ATRA supports legislation that:
Protects teachers and principals from liability for taking any action regarding the control, grading, suspension, expulsion, or discipline of students, unless the action violated an express law, rule, regulation, or clearly articulated policy of the state or school; Protects teachers and principals from liability for making a report consistent with the law to the appropriate law enforcement authorities or school officials if the individual making the report has reasonable grounds to suspect that a student is: under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances not prescribed to that individual; in possession of a firearm, alcoholic beverage, or a controlled substance not prescribed to that individual; or involved in the illegal sale or distribution of firearms, alcoholic beverages, or a controlled substance. Protects teacher and principals from punitive damages; Subjects students to discipline and fines of up to $2,000 for acting with specific intent in making a false accusation of criminal activity against a teacher or principal; Requires a court to award costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to the prevailing defendant in a civil action against an educational entity or its employee; and Limits attorneys’ contingent fees in cases against an educational entity or its employees.
None of the states has enacted teacher liability protection, although several have recently considered proposals for such legislation.
The 107th Congress passed the Teacher Protection Act (H.R.1) in December 2001. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law in January 2002.
The Teacher Protection Act, which was part of the President’s overall education reform plan:
- Prohibits the award of noneconomic damages against teachers in excess of teachers’ proportion of fault;
- Limits the availability of punitive damages against teachers by requiring clear and convincing evidence of willful or criminal misconduct, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed; and
- Protects teachers from lawsuits for most acts committed in compliance with the law or school rules, such as enforcing discipline, grading students, or promoting school safety.