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Educating Educators: Information and Answers about School Law

Disclaimer: This publication was written by the Texas Young Lawyers Association for Teachers, but is provided here as parents may find it useful as well. 

Introduction

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ~ Nelson Mandela


Although it is crucial to the success of many, the field of education is fraught with expectations, obligations, responsibilities, and regulations. “Educating Educators” is a resource guide designed to educate anyone with a job in thefield ofeducation (especially teachers and administrators) about their rights, responsibilities, and legal obligations. This guide will help educators understand and cultivate proper, legal relationships with students, parents, and administrators. It also provides guidance on reporting obligations and human trafficking. The guide also provides information on FERPA and other legal pitfalls educators face, and includes information regarding their rights and responsibilities.

Table of Contents


FOSTERING MEANINGFUL (AND LEGAL) RELATIONSHIPS....................1
Relationships With Students ................................................................................1
Relationships With Parents ..................................................................................3
Relationships With Administration ......................................................................5
REPORTING OBLIGATIONS ..........................................................................6
Child Abuse And Neglect ....................................................................................6
School Safety – Emergency Response ..............................................................9
Human Trafficking ..............................................................................................9
COMMON LEGAL PITFALLS ........................................................................12
FERPA ............................................................................................................12
Foods Of Minimal Nutritional Value (FMNV) Policy........................................14
Miscellaneous Issues........................................................................................14
RIGHTS AND RESOURCES ..........................................................................15
Basic Rights Of Educators ..................................................................................15
Employment Contract Rights ............................................................................18
Evaluations And Appraisals ................................................................................22
OTHER RESOURCES......................................................................................22

Fostering Meaningful Relationships with Students

I have been told that as a teacher, I am not to have any physical contact with my students for any reason. Is this legal?


Yes. School districts have broad authority to adopt necessary rules “for the safety and welfare of students, employees, and property.” If you are given a specific directive from your school district administration not to have physical contact with students, you will need to do everything possibleto comply with this policy. You need to usecommon sense and avoid situations that can give rise to false accusations of inappropriate contact, such as being alone with a student in an isolated setting.


What about in situations where physical contact is necessary to prevent the disruption of classes or other school activities?


Obviously, no one can justify touching a student in a harmful, sexual, or offensive manner. However, under the Texas Penal Code, teachers are justified in using reasonable force if they reasonably believe it is necessary to maintain discipline in a group. This law has been in place since 1879, and it is intended to provide teachers with a defense to prosecution rather than a license for the use of physical force. The Texas Education Code also grants school employees immunity from suit, meaning you cannot be personally liable for any act that is incident to or within the scope of the duties of your position of employment and that involves the exercise of judgment or discretion. The only exception is instances where you use excessive force in the discipline of students or you are negligent and it results in bodily injury to students. If you are given a specific directive from your school district administration on how to deal with disruptions of school activities, you will need to comply with this policy.

How do these rules change when applied to situations dealing with special education students?


State regulations are intended to ensure that all students are treated with dignity and respect, as well as educated in a safe environment. Behavior management techniques and/or discipline management practices must be implemented in such a way as to protect the health and safety of the students and others. When the use of physical restraint or time-out is necessary, the state has outlined specific requirements and procedures. Your school district administration should have a policy in place that complies with these laws and regulations. If you are given a specific directive from your school district administration, you will need to comply with this policy

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