(CNSNews.com) - The education reform bill about to be signed by President Bush includes legal protections for teachers and school administrators who take steps to keep unruly students in line.
The Teacher Liability Protection Act will shield educators from frivolous lawsuits filed in either state or federal courts, said Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), sponsor of the legislation.
"It's time to take the lawyers out of the classroom - to restore order and discipline so that our teachers can teach and our students can learn in truly safe schools," Brady said. "You can't learn in schools that aren't safe and don't have discipline. Teaching and learning are impossible to achieve in an environment of disorder or disrespect or fear."
After talking with teachers and principals, Brady said many are reluctant to impose discipline in the classroom out of fear that they'll lose the backing of school administrators who might be threatened with a lawsuit.
"Dedicated teachers, principals and school boards who act responsibly to maintain safety shouldn't be afraid of being recklessly and unfairly sued," Brady said.
The legislation allows for the right decisions to be made to ensure safety, order and discipline in the classrooms across the country, Brady said.
Jaime Horowitz, spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers, said the liability protection measure will help but was not a priority for the union.
"It's like a gift in a way, but it is not something that we were clamoring for. We don't see a crying need for it, because all our members have liability insurance through their school districts as well as through us," Horowitz said.
He explained that all teachers belonging to his union have liability coverage up to $1 million. "We are in no way opposed to this legislation. It is helpful, not hurtful. However, it doesn't fill some great need that is out there," he said.
Brady's emphasis, however, was on the fact that teachers needed to be insured by the district, state and union before they enter a classroom. "If you have to have a million dollars of liability insurance before you can enter a classroom to teach, doesn't that tell you that something is wrong to begin with," he asked.
Teachers and administrators who must be so heavily insured are defensive in their jobs from the start, Brady said. "What we have learned is that parents like to sue the teachers, teachers like to sue school boards and trial lawyers like to sue everybody," he said.
Brady added that the measure "is going to help quite a bit or the trial lawyers wouldn't have opposed it so strongly. We must have been hitting home if they are so strongly opposed to what we are doing."
Horowitz argues that many of the states already have the liability that this measure would create. "Almost all states have pretty decent immunity laws on the books to protect teachers from lawsuits under certain actions.
"If we were paying out million dollar settlements left and right and our members were saying they were scared to teach or discipline, then we might have had a different position on this. That is not the case. We're not seeing that," Horowitz said.
Horowitz added that, "it would be unwise for anyone who currently has liability insurance through their union or professional organization to drop that. It would also be unwise for any school district to drop their coverage."