To the Editor: When should Teachers intervene to break up fights between students?
After reading skewered accounts of instances when teachers allegedly stepped aside as students pummelled each other, some members of the public get the wrong idea.
Should Teachers and other educators who are not explicitly required or even allowed to do so defy the prohibitions and risk life and limb and their careers?
Many of us are morally driven to do so, especially in extreme scenarios. But every case and every individual is different.
Every school is supposed to have a safety plan, drawn up collaboratively with parents and staff, and it should not be merely a document handed down by the Principal. Every contingency is supposed to be laid out, including personnel duly qualified and assigned to specific roles.
Personnel, including crisis teams, are trained and must be accessible at all times in case of emergencies.
It is not part of a Teacher’s job description to physically use force and join violent conflict. If a child is at risk of serious injury it may be unconscionable not to try to prevent it, but Teachers have gotten badly burned because of the legal predicament they find themselves in.
Good Samaritan Laws are not honored by the Department of Education.
The DOE clings to technicalities when it suits them.
Therefore, if a Teacher falls and shatters a hip while parting two fighting students, their employer will not sign off on an injury-in-the-line-of-duty claim, because the assistance provided the student was not within the parameters of the Teacher’s responsibilities.
And any time they take off from work for physician-ordered recovery will be docked from their sick bank. In some cases, especially those of non-tenured Teachers, their resulting time-and-attendance record might also cause their supervisor to give them an unsatisfactory performance rating for the entire school year.
It is common for teachers to be sued in court for millions of dollars by students and their parents who , on the advice of unscrupulous lawyers, will allege forcible touching or unnecessary roughness, which can feel that way when high-schoolers punch and kick the “referee” who must defend himself.
All such lawsuits must be defended in court even if they transparently have no merit. And there is never a guarantee of justice. One can be certain that the litigation will be protracted and so costly as to sometimes put a Teacher’s house into foreclosure and drive the well-intentioned educator into real debt.
Apart from loss of life savings and ability to support their family, being the subject of such a lawsuit can irreversibly damage one’s reputation, even if exonerated.
The city will not foot the bill. It will leave the teacher (or other non-authorized staff members) twisting in the wind.
Being arrested by the NYPD on the basis of a student’s allegation of manhandling (even if the complaint is from the instigator of the violence) will result in the Teacher’s removal and a special investigation.
Why would a kid make a false charge against a teacher?
It happens often. And in such cases, they usually have no problem conscripting their confreres as witnesses. And they don’t get into trouble for filing false police reports.
It’s a lot to ask teachers to put so much on the line, especially when they never know when they’re being set up by students, their parents, or school administrators.
After the ordeal of a lawsuit or disciplinary action taken against you for separating belligerent kids, you may be lucky and get restored to the status quo, but you can never be “made whole” again in spirit. You may be vindicated yet still be damned.
The scars cut too deep.
When you are doing the “right thing” but the power structure doesn’t approve, you can expect turbulence. Even if your immediate supervisor in school is sympathetic, if the bureaucracy does not welcome the display of your core values, your career may still be skating on thin ice.
We need a sea change in philosophy and political will.
Although Teachers cannot be mandated or asked to intervene in student fights, those who do so should be covered by the city for any resulting legal and medical expenses and be entitled to unlimited sick days when injury is directly attributable to their intervention.
They must be “held harmless.” And there must be a “Good Samaritan” law with teeth.
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