How can teachers avoid fights about Book Bags?
In a recent article, a local newspaper reported that a teacher student fight occurred at the La Marque High School. The teacher student fight occurred after a teacher confiscated a students book bag and the student demanded the return of the book bag. It was common practice at the high school for student to carry their book bags to class.
The students father responded to the teacher student fight. The father of the 15-year-old girl charged in the classroom attack of a La Marque High School teacher, said the video showing the beating doesn’t tell the whole story. “There’s no excuse for what she did,” Myron Lenor said Wednesday. “(But) the teacher had been provoking her all week.”
The student was subsequently arrested and charged with a third degree felony. The teacher is considered a public servant. According to Texas Penal Code §12.32 assaulting a public servant results in the following:
- Imprisonment in the institutional division for life, or
- Imprisonment in the institutional division for not more than 99 years or less than five years with the exception of aggravated sexual assault, which adds a 25-year minimum punishment if the victim is younger than 6, or younger than 14 and the offense contained threats of serious bodily injury or death, or use of a deadly weapon
- In addition to imprisonment, may receive a fine not to exceed $10,000
The challenge for the La Marque School District and the teacher is that the teacher could have fueled the teacher student fight by possessing the students book bag. Since the students book bag is the students personal property they could plead that the incident would not have taken place if the teacher did not unlawfully retrieve the students book bag.
This is consistent with the Clean Hands Doctrine. The Clean Hands Doctrine is an equitable defense in which the defendant argues that the plaintiff is not entitled to obtain an equitable remedy because the plaintiff is acting unethically or has acted in bad faith with respect to the subject of the complaint—that is, with “unclean hands”. The defendant has the burden of proof to show the plaintiff is not acting in good faith. The doctrine is often stated as “those seeking equity must do equity” or “equity must come with clean hands”. A defendant’s unclean hands can also be claimed and proven by the plaintiff to claim other equitable remedies and to prevent that defendant from asserting equitable affirmative defenses. In other words, ‘unclean hands’ can be used offensively by the plaintiff as well as defensively by the defendant.
These are the facts that will surface in a court of law:
- The teacher violated school protocol by singling out the student when she confiscated the student’s book bag
- The teacher did not have probable cause to confiscate the student’s book bag
- The teacher refused to return the student’s personal property
The La Marque could have avoided the teacher student fight by adhering to one of the following steps:
- When students come to class with a book bag tell them that they are not allowed in the class if this is consistent with the rules of the school. If they refuse to leave, get your cell phone out and call the front office. Request that an administrator come to your class to remove a student.
- If this is not a rule of the school, you can have all of the students place their book bags in a central location while they are in your class.
- If the student allow you to keep the book bag safe for them during class and then demands their book bag, return the book bag. Then require that the student leave the class. If the student does not leave, then call the front office. Request that an administrator come to your class to remove a student.
Teachers can avoid many complications that result in teacher student fights by remaining consistent with the enforcement of disciplinary and school rules.
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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.