A news release issued this morning announced the governor's plans to work with lawmakers in the coming legislative session to pass a law providing legal immunity for those teachers and school staff members who, in good faith, discipline students. He also wants the Indiana Attorney General's Office to use its statutory authority to defend any teacher who becomes the target of unreasonable litigation.
The Republican governor made the announcement in Fort Wayne, one of several spots he's visiting this week to unveil a series of announcements about proposed K-12 and higher education policy he hopes for if re-elected in November. This issue is one the governor has heard about from teachers statewide, according to spokeswoman Jane Jankowski.
In the release, the governor cited three examples: a central Indiana student who filed a tort claim notice for injuries against a gym teacher who required the student to do push-ups over an infraction; another student in the Indianapolis area filed claims against school personnel after teachers tried to separate two students involved in a fight; and a northern Indiana student sued the school and principal for attempting to restrain that student during a fight.
The governor noted that a number of states have laws protecting teachers. Those state statutes are being examined as potential models, according to the governor's office.
Student discipline is an issue the Indiana Court of Appeals recently addressed in State v. Paula J. Fettig, No. 49A02-0709-CR-807, a Marion County appeal that came down in April involving a Beech Grove teacher's discipline of a student in gym class. The court upheld the trial judge's dismissal of a battery charge against the teacher, writing that Indiana Code sections 20-33-8-8(b) and 20-33-8-9 protect the teacher from prosecution by stating that teachers "can take any action that is reasonably necessary to carry out or to prevent an interference with an educational function that an individual supervises."
The appellate court noted that "a dearth" of modern caselaw exists on this issue and most of its authority dates to the late 19th century. As a result, appellate courts have removed teacher corporal punishment mostly from jury discretion and put that responsibility in the courts' hands.
That decision drew a dissent from Judge James Kirsch, who wrote that times have changed since that precedent was established and that he has serious doubts that today's Supreme Court would uphold that precedent. Many countries and states now ban corporal punishment in schools, he wrote.