“Teacher Protection Act” clears committee, will get Assembly floor vote

Despite the objections of the WASB and school administrators, Assembly Bill 693, dubbed the “Teacher Protection Act” by its author, state Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac, pictured), cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee in a very “stripped down” version (Assembly Substitute Amendment 2) of the original bill on a 6-3 party-line vote.  The bill will be taken up by the full Assembly on Feb. 22nd as part of the last-day-of session marathon calendar.

The modified version of the bill would provide for the right of a teacher in a public school, including a charter school, or an instructional staff member at an independent charter school to terminate his or her employment, without penalty, if the teacher or instructional staff member is the victim of a “physical assault” as defined in the bill or of a violent crime, as defined in s. 939.632 (1) (e), Stats., while the teacher is on school premises, at or in transit to a school-sponsored activity, or otherwise engaged in official duties on behalf of the school district.

While this might seem reasonable to some, the WASB has some serious concerns about the way the mechanism by which this right would be extended to teachers, as well as the definitions in the bill and the conditions under which teachers can assert the rights conferred by the bill, not to mention the larger question of whether the bill, in its present form, is even necessary.

To our knowledge not a single witness raised this issue as a concern during the public hearing on the bill.

As the WASB noted in a memo to Assembly Judiciary Committee members expressing our opposition to the modified version before it was voted on, in the WASB’s experience, when there is a legitimate reason to let a teacher out of his or her contract, we believe that school boards will generally bend over backwards to let those teachers out of their contracts without requiring them to pay liquidated damages.

In our view, requiring school boards to insert this statutory protection into each and every individual teacher contract is a wrong approach because of he sheer numbers of individual contracts and the risk that mistakes or omissions will occur. There is a better way to draft the bill to accomplish the intent to allow affected teachers out of their contracts without penalty.  We also think there should be a time limit within which a teacher must (or may) exercise the protection the bill sets forth.  All of these concerns are laid out in greater detail in the memo to Judiciary Committee members.