COA: teacher within rights in striking student

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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Relying on caselaw from the 19th century, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a trial court's decision to dismiss a battery charge against a teacher for striking a student in gym class.

Judges Patricia Riley and Melissa May agreed with the trial court in State of Indiana v. Paula J. Fettig, No. 49A02-0709-CR-807, that gym teacher Fettig was protected from prosecution because state statute gives authority to school personnel to discipline students. Citing Indiana Code Sections 20-33-8-8(b) and 20-33-8-9, Judge Riley wrote these sections state that teachers "may take any action that is reasonably necessary to carry out or to prevent an interference with an educational function that the individual supervises."

Fettig worked as a high school gym teacher in Beech Grove. During a class, a student, T.C., injured herself. T.C.'s friend, S.D., checked on T.C. Fettig said S.D. began yelling at other students for mocking T.C. and used profanity. She described the situation as getting out of hand and in an effort to regain control of the class, Fettig said S.D.'s name repeatedly and when S.D. continued to ignore Fettig, the teacher turned S.D.'s chin toward her and told her to get up and go play.

The student witnesses' accounts varied; one heard a slap but did not see Fettig strike S.D. Another saw Fettig strike S.D. with an open palm on the left side of her face. S.D. testified Fettig slapped her, which stung, and told her to go play.

The state filed an information charging Fettig with battery as a Class A misdemeanor. In response, Fettig filed a motion to dismiss the charge, which the trial court granted.

The state appealed, arguing that although teachers are allowed to use reasonable corporate punishment when disciplining students, whether Fettig's actions were corporal punishment is a question of fact.

Judge Riley wrote that trial courts have a certain level of discretion to determine factual issues and dismiss informations. The trial court found Fettig didn't use a weapon, closed fist, repeated blows, or verbal abuse on S.D., just an open hand touching the student's face, which caused her face to sting.

The majority agreed with the trial court's findings and even cited three cases to support their decision - Vanvactor v. State, 113 Ind. 276, 15 N.E. 341, 342 (Ind. 1888); Danenhoffer v. State, 69 Ind. 295, 1879 WL 5751 (Ind. 1879); and Marlsbary v. State, 10 Ind.App. 21, 37 N.E. 558 (Ind. Ct. App. 1894).

In these cases, teachers were charged with assault and battery for whipping students, but the state's Supreme Court and Court of Appeals overturned the trial court decisions, finding the evidence didn't support the convictions.

Judge Riley notes these three cases demonstrate the ability of the judiciary to determine when a teacher has acted within the bounds of his or her authority to discipline a student.

"Considering the facts here - no weapons, no closed fist, no repeated blows, no verbal abuse, and the only alleged injury being a stinging sensation - in context with the right of teachers to be free from criminal prosecution for physical punishment that is neither cruel nor excessive, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing the information charging Fettig with battery," she wrote.

In his dissent, Judge James Kirsch wrote that the three cases cited in the majority opinion all come from the 19th century and times have changed since then regarding student discipline. Many countries and states - not Indiana - ban corporal punishment in schools. The judge wrote he has serious doubts that today's Supreme Court would uphold the whipping in Vanvactor, which left marks on a student's legs, or the whipping administered by a school superintendent for not delivering a note, as is the case in Danenhoffer.

"The State should have its day in court. I believe the trial court erred in dismissing the charge, and, accordingly, I respectfully dissent," he wrote.

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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues