BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – A state lawmaker wants to shield teachers from being prosecuted for breaking up school fights. Some teachers and advocates fear the unintended consequences of the legislation.
After numerous school fights across the state have left students and teachers injured, state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, wants to give teachers a legal shield if they step in.
“Rather than having to stand back and watch two students kill each other, pull each other’s hair out, they can intervene without fear of being sued,” Hodges said.
The bill states if a teacher, principal, or administrator intervenes in a “justifiable defense” of students or an employee they will be immune to civil liability or criminal prosecution.
Some advocates fear the few bad actors out there could abuse the protections, but the bill author emphasizes that is not the case.
“If there is any intent to cause bodily harm, then obviously they need to be prosecuted. Just as with a police officer,” Hodges said.
Eugene Collins with the Baton Rouge NAACP said there are already protections in place for teachers so the bill is not needed.
“Who’s to say that teachers want to intervene in this way? Why aren’t we looking for a more plausible solution of security in these school settings, rather than giving teachers another function and we can’t even pay them what they’re worth already?” Collins said.
He also doesn’t want this to further cause a division between teachers and parents that has grown in recent years.
“I have more concern about this in smaller districts and media dead zones in places where sometimes the same level of accountability doesn’t exist as you see in some of the big cities,” Collins said.
Rep. Hodges claimed none of the teachers’ unions reached out to her about the bill.
“We have a conservative Republican bringing a bill to protect teachers, principals and administrators and not one of the union representatives, not one of the unions in our state have reached out to you to help to support you in this bill,” State Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, said.
But the Louisiana Federation of Teachers said they did reach out to Hodges with concerns on the bill last week and did not get a call back. They released this statement in response to Monday’s hearing:
“The Louisiana Federation of Teachers did call and speak with Rep. Hodges about HB 86 on Friday, April 21, 2023. We expressed our support for the concept of the bill. We advised her that LFT had concerns that the bill as currently written could have unintended consequences for teachers, school employees and administrators. She indicated that she was considering pulling the bill because of opposition expressed by special needs parents, but she would call back to discuss our concerns. She did not call back, so we were surprised that the bill was considered today in committee.
We were very surprised by some of the testimony around HB 86 in the Civil Law Committee meeting today. LFT did reach out to Rep Hodges with our concerns prior to the committee meeting. We take issue with the accusation that LFT would not support a bill simply because it was authored by a conservative lawmaker. LFT considers education issues to be non-partisan. This belief is reflected by the past recipients of our legislative awards, which are given to legislators with recognition of their support for public education, regardless of party affiliation.”
They have some concerns with the bill. Some of those worries include the bill being interpreted that educators must intervene in physical conflict.
“Again, LFT supports this bill in concept as we would any bill that has the potential to protect those who work with students everyday. Since the hearing today, LFT has spoken with Rep. Hodges and she has agreed to amend the bill to ensure that teachers, school employees and administrators do not fall victim to any unintended consequences,” a representative with LFT said in a statement.
The Louisiana Association of Educators said while they did not know this bill would be up so soon, they are open to working with all legislators to make sure bills are in the best interest of students and teachers.
The bill advanced without objection and heads to the full House.