Yesterday, by a vote of 239-189, the House of Representatives joined the United States Senate in passing teacher liability protections when it amended language in the Teacher Liability Protection Act (H.R. 1103) to H.R.1, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
The legislation, introduced by Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) with bipartisan cosponsorship, would protect teachers, principals, school boards, and schools from frivolous lawsuits meant to intimidate and harass teachers, principals, and school boards. Similar language passed the Senate earlier this month by a vote of 98-1. H.R. 1 is expected to pass the House soon.
"As classrooms grow more dangerous, and school violence escalates, teachers and principals need to know they can enforce school discipline and maintain order in the classroom without fear of being sued," said American Tort Reform Association President Sherman Joyce. "Just as importantly, however, this legislation does not promote corporal punishment in schools, and it does not protect teachers and principals from civil lawsuits dealing with physical or sexual abuse, or civil rights claims."
States disagreeing with the law's policies could opt out of its provisions.
"Dedicated teachers, principals and school boards who act responsibly shouldn't be afraid of being unfairly and recklessly hauled into court," said Congressman Brady.
In addition to ATRA's support, Congressman Brady's amendment enjoyed the support of the National School Board Association (NSBA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), numerous Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) groups, Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), and the Houston Chronicle.
The Teacher Protection Act is a partial solution to problems exposed in a school principal survey conducted by the NASSP, the NAESP, and ATRA in 1999. That survey showed that nearly one principal in five spends 5-10 hours a week in meetings or documenting events to avoid litigation. Sixty-four percent of respondents expected an increase in litigation as a result of escalating violence in our nation's schools.
Curiously, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) reversed his earlier support of the language in the Brady amendment at the same time that the National Education Association (NEA) formally registered its opposition to the legislation. Gephardt urged his colleagues in Congress to oppose the legislation.
"In reversing his earlier position on this important legislation, Congressman Gephardt chose the interests of wealthy personal injury lawyers and the powerful teachers union over the interests of individual teachers, principals, and taxpayers," added Joyce.