Proposed law would increase teacher awareness, authority regarding student misconduct

Proposed legislation to increase teacher awareness and authority to deal with student misconduct (LRB-0917/P6) could create additional rights for educators, including the authority to remove students from our classroom for two days, use reasonable force to defend ourselves and other students, receive information about a pupil taken into custody for a violent crime, and request a suspension hearing.

Republican Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt of Fond du Lac hasn’t formally introduced the measure, but unveiled the components of the proposal under development.

We’ll be looking into the specifics if the bill is introduced,” said Ron Martin, a teacher and president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “This kind of legislation could provide some protections to teachers, but we’d also love to see some pro-active legislation that can help teachers connect with students to prevent crisis situations, such as professional development to defuse potentially difficult interactions with students, mandatory preparation time and limitations on workload and class sizes.”

Martin said the proposed bill could provide benefits for classroom teachers, such as increased classroom decision-making, expanded options for managing the learning environment, and a better likelihood of uninterrupted instruction benefiting all learners. The measure would also protect teachers’ leave benefits while out of work due to an injury inflicted by a student.

The proposal comes on the heels of a bill introduced to weaken teachers’ due process rights. “It’s ironic that, at the same time legislation is circulating to take away a fair process for teachers to challenge disciplinary action through independent hearings, a bill is under development to expand the role of teachers in student discipline,” said Martin, who teaches eighth graders. “Teachers need a fair grievance process in place to allow them autonomy to create safe learning environments. You can’t have one without the other. What could happen if a principal disagreed with a teacher’s use of the suspension option? Teachers could be nonrenewed without a chance to prove their case.”

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards has voiced strong concerns about the potential discipline bill, 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.” A long-standing WASB resolution states the WASB opposes legislation authorizing a teacher to remove a student from the classroom without the approval of principals, administrators or school board policies

Teachers have advocated for more autonomy in discipline decisions, especially given some situations in which building administrators haven’t used the student code of conduct policy for discipline, instead looking the other way to improve statistics on district reports.