As School Fights Seemingly Rise Nationwide, New MD Bill Seeks to Protect Teachers From Civil Liability
Fights breaking out in America’s K-12 schools are on the rise according to a new survey by the American Psychological Association. The survey which sampled 14,966 participants found that one in three teachers had reported at least one incident of verbal harassment or threatening behavior from students. Administrators saw a higher rate with 37% reporting verbal harassment and threat of violence from students. When it came to the same threats from parents towards teachers and administrators, that rate fluctuated to 29% and 42% respectively.
One teacher on the survey shared, “I have been physically assaulted multiple times by students in the building and they know that not only is there no one to stop them, but there will be no consequences either.”
As these fights break out, often in the high school setting, teachers and administrators are finding themselves on the front lines of the violent punching, wrestling, and kicking as they try to break these fights up. In an effort to combat this growing trend, Maryland lawmakers are taking legal action to protect teachers and other staff personnel who find themselves toeing the line of protecting their students and facing civil liability.
Maryland’s new House Bill 137 is seeking to protect teachers from civil liability for property damage and personal injury so long as their attempts to break up a fight are done in good faith and not in a negligent manner. The bill which was previously brought up in 2020 failed but is facing more support as school fights nationwide continue to climb.
According to a Maryland court of appeals ruling in 2021, teachers could face civil liability If they intervened during a fight and caused personal injury, property damage, or otherwise failed to protect students. This new bill would offer more protection to teachers so that students engaging in violent fighting could be stopped by teachers without the worry of violating civil liberties.
This new Maryland law comes on the heels of a New Jersey high school attack on 14-year-old Adriana Kuch at the hands of her classmates. In a video that circulated online, Kuch can be seen being kicked, punched, and assaulted with a full water bottle by her classmates. Two days later Adriana committed suicide.
The devastating events caused a national outrage over student safety and how teachers, administrators, and school boards respond to student violence. Adriana’s father Michael Kuch shared with news outlets that it was not the fight that broke his daughter's will to live but the fact that it was videotaped and shared with her classmates. Kuch explained, “I want laws put in place that these kids are prosecuted for making, posting, and sharing these videos.” He added, “There are more Adrianas at that school. I can tell you that what I've learned since my daughter passed is, there are Adrianas all over the country. This isn't just a Central problem. It's a country problem.”
Schools thought the nation have reported higher rates of school fighting as compared to previous years, especially pre-pandemic. Akam K., a sophomore at a densely populated Virginia public high school, shares that he has noticed an uptick in violent fighting at this school. “There are fights constantly every week at least, one every week and they are very dangerous because students get hurt.” He adds that “teachers are constantly breaking it up and are also getting hit by students” when intervening.
In a fight that happened last week, Akam shared a video in which a school administrator and several teachers including a school resource officer intervened in a physical fight that broke out among a mob of students. In the video, the alleged school administrator can be seen barefoot and on the floor after falling when she attempted to break up a fight. The violent fight continued to barrel down the hallway, and teachers and other students were eventually able to break up the fight.
A Baltimore, MD, teacher, Franca Muller Paz, told legislators during a hearing that "You really can't tell a teacher not to get involved, but it's unfair to expect them to take on that kind of legal risk. We should be protected when we're trying to really protect our kids."
Muller Paz, who is also active in her union, shared that “I often have to tell teachers the sad truth; that if they observe a fight they are not protected if they tried to intervene; therefore, they shouldn't get involved because they have no legal protections."