Wheeler Report: Rep. Thiesfeldt Drafting “Teacher Protection Act”

The Wheeler Report, a Capitol-based, paid subscription news service that provides subscribers with e-mail reports about current goings-on at the State Capitol, reported this morning on a piece of legislation under development by Assembly Education Committee chairman, state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac), which Rep. Thiesfeldt has labelled the “Teacher Protection Act.”

The WASB has been engaged in what we have understood to be strictly confidential discussions with Rep. Thiesfeldt and his staff regarding our concerns about this legislation. Now that this proposal has become the subject of public news reports, we are sharing what has been reported because we believe this subject matter will be of interest to many school boards and administrators.

Here is what The Wheeler Report posted to subscribers this morning:

“THIESFELDT DRAFTING “TEACHER PROTECTION ACT”

“A preliminary draft of legislation obtained by The Wheeler Report, shows Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt is drafting what he is calling the “Teacher Protection Act.” “The bill aims to give teachers information about violent crimes committed by students. According to (the preliminary draft obtained by the Wheeler Report) LRB-0917/P6, the bill would:

  • Duty to Report: The bill requires law enforcement to report to the administrator of a school district, charter school, or private school certain information related to a felony or certain misdemeanors by a pupil or when a pupil is taken into custody in connection with a felony or certain circumstances. The law enforcement must provide this information to the school prior to the beginning of the school day immediately following the incident.
  • Duty to Report: The bill requires the school board and governing body to notify a teacher who is working directly with a pupil who is the subject of such a record as soon as practicable and, if possible, prior to the pupil attending the teacher’s class.
  • Duty to Report: The bill requires the principal or administrator to notify law enforcement within 24 hours after learning of a physical assault or violent crimes towards a person by a pupil that takes place at school or at a school-sponsored activity if requested by a witness to or adult victim of the incident.
  • Notice of Teacher Rights and Protections: The bill creates and modifies certain rights and protections for teachers and requires DPI to include on its Internet site a summary of the laws governing these rights:
    • The right of a teacher to remove a pupil from a classroom under certain circumstances for a period of two consecutive days.
    • The right of a teacher to receive information from a school board about a pupil who committed a felony or violent misdemeanor or who was taken into custody based upon a law enforcement officer’s belief that the pupil was committing or had committed a felony or violent misdemeanor.
    • The right of a teacher to use reasonable and necessary force under certain circumstances.
    • The right of a teacher to request a school board to schedule a suspension hearing when that teacher has requested that a pupil be suspended and the administrator of the school has denied the request. Under current law, no hearing is required to suspend a pupil.
    • The right of a school district employee or teacher to receive assistance and leave benefits if the teacher is injured as a result of a physical assault or violent crime while performing work duties.
    • The right of a teacher to terminate his or her contract without penalty if the teacher is a victim of a physical assault or violent crime while performing work duties.
    • Civil immunity provided to a teacher under state and federal laws for certain discretionary acts.
  • Records and Reporting: The bill requires each school board to maintain pupil behavioral records until the pupil has graduated from high school and for one year after graduation. If the pupil is no longer enrolled in a school in the school district and if the school district has not received a request to transfer the pupil’s records to another school, the district must retain the records until the pupil attains the age of 21.
  • Records and Reporting: The bill requires DPI to include additional information about suspensions and expulsions in the school district report card it creates for each school district including the number of physical assaults by pupils on teachers and other school district employees, on other pupils, and on adults not employed by the school district.

“When asked about the bill draft Rep. Thiesfeldt said they bill has gone through many drafts and thinks ‘we could be on number nine right now.’ Thiesfeldt said juvenile records are one of the issues they have had to consider while drafting the bill, but said he doesn’t think it will be an issue. Thiesfeldt said this bill would inform the teachers, that the student comes in contact with during the course of a day, that the student had been detained by the police. Thiesfeldt said this is “as much for the teacher’s good as it is for the student’s good.” Thiesfeldt said there are differences in the bill drafts, but he believes it only includes teachers the student has contact with during the day and doesn’t include coaches and other staff. When asked about the “use of reasonable and necessary force under certain circumstances.'” Thiesfeldt said those are already defined in statutes and this bill wouldn’t change those statutes, and that the bill shouldn’t infringe on any of the special needs laws about restraints. Thiesfeldt said that provision is about the teacher (sic) being able to protect themselves, protect other students, and protect the student from themselves when necessary.”

While safety and safe learning environments are critical to student learning and student and school success and while this proposal appears well-intended, the WASB, nevertheless, has a number of strong concerns about this proposal, including the lack of safeguards in the way teachers are empowered to take actions against students that may or may not conform to school board policies or the normal chain of command in school settings or could be abused by certain teachers.

In particular, existing WASB Resolution 3.80 on Removal of Students from Class may make it difficult for the WASB to support the bill as currently drafted. Under that long-standing resolution, the WASB opposes legislation authorizing a teacher to remove a student from the classroom without the approval of principals, administrators or school board policies.  Stay tuned for updates on this important legislation.