Latest assault bill would give teachers more authority

Published 10:11 am Wednesday, April 6, 2016

ST. PAUL — In an attempt to address a string of assaults against teachers in Minnesota, state lawmakers took up another bill Tuesday that would give teachers more control in their classrooms.

Education chairwoman Rep. Jenifer Loon’s measure would clarify a teacher’s authority to remove students from their classroom, establish a fund to help pay for medical costs after an incident and notify teachers when students with violent histories are placed in their classrooms.

The measure, which has bipartisan support, is the latest proposal aimed at addressing assaults against teachers following several publicized assaults on teachers in recent months. In January, a 16-year-old boy was sentenced to house arrest after he attacked and injured a teacher at St. Paul Central High School.

Email newsletter signup

Loon said lawmakers need to ensure that teachers have the ability to remove students who they believe are a threat to staff or other students.

“Teachers are professionals, they’re highly trained and we trust them to educate our students so they have control over what happens in their classrooms,” she said.

A lobbyist from the state Department of Education and some lawmakers Tuesday said they thought more study is needed before making any significant changes to how schools work with troubled students.

Rep. Carlos Mariani, a St. Paul Democrat, said acting before understanding why assaults are occurring and why students of color are disproportionately disciplined could create further issues.

“I would be real nervous about the Legislature opening up new lines of authority without understanding where that might lead given the very real human dynamics that exist in our society that fall along racial lines with lots of rooms for misunderstanding between adult instructors and young students,” he said.

Others said teachers need immediate relief.

“We do a lot of talking — this is an action bill,” said Rep. Linda Slocum, a Democrat from Richfield who said that when she was a teacher she had things such as a desk and a boom box thrown at her.

A Senate bill introduced earlier this year would require schools to expel students who assault a teacher. That measure was met with sharp criticism from education advocates who said it didn’t solve underlying issues. Another would require schools to first consider alternative measures to discipline before expulsion. Loon’s measure would not mandate how districts respond to assaults on teachers, which she said should be left up to local school districts.

Her measure and the others will be considered later in the session when lawmakers decide what to include in their overall education package.