The Louisiana Senate Education Committee last week approved a bill aimed at giving school officials more leeway to use physical force to stop bullying incidents.
While there is a great deal of emotional pull in this measure, legislators should proceed with caution.
Any time the state frees up teachers and other school workers to use force against students, it invites confusion, inconsistency and abuse – even if it is in pursuit of the noblest of intentions.
And certainly, the prevention of or intervention in student bullying is a noble intention. The question here, though, is whether a statewide measure making it easier for school officials to involve themselves in the incident will achieve the goal without creating legal problems for schools and the very workers it seeks to empower.
The bill would let any school employee who sees an incident of bullying to “take all steps deemed necessary to stop the behavior,” the bill says. Using force, restraining the student and involving law enforcement would all be allowed.
While the involvement of law enforcement should be encouraged when it is appropriate, it seems dangerous to send untrained school workers into physical confrontations with students. And what constitutes bullying, as opposed to fights or arguments or something else entirely will be an extremely difficult question to answer without creating even more uncertainty.
Various people from the governor’s office to a teacher’s union to a legal advocacy group urged state Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, to work with the Louisiana Bullying Awareness and Treatment Task Force in crafting legislation that will create change to help students.
Milkovich is certainly guided by a willingness to improve the lives of students, many of whom, he rightly points out, are targeted by bullies. And some provisions of his bill, such as allowing bullying victims to change schools or forcing bullies to switch schools, may be worthy of further study.
But blurring the lines that prohibit physical contact between students and school officials would create more potential problems that it solves.
Trained law enforcement professionals can and should be relied upon to handle problems that demand physical intervention. Inviting teachers and others to do so creates logistical and legal dangers for the school officials while increasing the likelihood that a worker or a student could be injured in the process.
Bullying is a national scourge, one that demands our society’s attention and creativity. We need people thinking about how to attack the problem to protect the rights of all students.
Milkovich should work closely with the people who have been studying the issue and come up with ways help the students without muddying the common sense rules that keep teachers from physically confronting students.
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