A bill intended to protect teachers in the classroom by requiring law enforcement to share information about students’ criminal records with schools is being met with criticism from local lawmakers, disability rights groups and education advocates.
State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, who chairs the Assembly’s Education Committee, began circulating the Teacher Protection Act for signatures in October and testified on the measure Thursday before the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
Thiesfeldt, a former schoolteacher and administrator with more than 20 years of experience, said the bill would build school relationships with law enforcement, allow more classroom control, provide loss of leave benefits to teachers if they are assaulted or injured, assure access for up-to-date student records and update teachers annually on their expanded rights.
“Today we began the public process to strengthen a teacher’s ability to maintain effective discipline and feel safe in their classrooms,” he said.
The act would, among other things, require police officers to report violent incidents involving students to their schools and allow teachers to initiate suspension actions against students. It also would allow teachers to review the behavioral records of students in their classes, give teachers the right to remove students from classrooms under certain circumstances for up to two days at a time, allow them to use reasonable and necessary force in certain cases and provide civil immunity under state and federal law for certain acts.
While Thiesfeldt has painted the bill as a measure designed to protect teachers, critics argue the law violates student privacy rights and would disproportionately affect students with disabilities. In testimony submitted Thursday to the Assembly Judiciary Committee, state Rep. Dave Considine, D-Baraboo, said he supports the bill’s intention to protect teachers, but is “extremely concerned” it will have “many negative effects” on teachers, students, parents and school staff.
Considine, a former educator with nearly 30 years of experience teaching students with disabilities, said the measure would contribute to teacher biases against students and disrupt the chain of communication between teachers, administrators and their school districts.
“Kids with disabilities or unique needs have a hard enough time being accepted and getting equitable treatment in school,” he said. “They don’t need us to make it any more difficult for them.”
Disability rights groups, school administrators, teachers and other education advocates also criticized the bill during more than six hours of public testimony before the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
“We’re substituting punishment for problem-solving,” said Mike Julka, an attorney for the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance. “We should be looking for ways to solve these problems, not ways to increase the punishment.”
Thiesfeldt said the bill is intended to curb a growing trend of violence against teachers in the state through disciplinary actions.
Assaults and threats against teachers in both public and private schools have been on the rise nationally since 2003 after declining for a decade, according to a report issued last year by the U.S. Department of Education. The report said during the 2011-2012 school year, 25 percent of Wisconsin teachers said they had been attacked or threatened over the last year — the highest percentage in the country.
While Considine agreed with supporters of the Teacher Protection Act that violence against teachers is a crucial state and national issue, he implored lawmakers to search for other options to address the matter.
“If you truly want to support teachers and keep them out of harm’s way, I encourage you to explore more supportive, positive options,” he said. “It is not ‘coddling’ or taking the issue lightly — it is following demonstrated evidence that punishment and negative reinforcement do not change behavior.”
The bill has yet to be voted on in committee.