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. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.