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Safety First: Student Assault Laws & Teachers’ Rights

UniServ Rep Suzanne Haviland addressed East Hartford and Manchester teachers at a recent workshop.

CEA UniServ Representative Suzanne Haviland addressed East Hartford and Manchester teachers at a recent workshop.

Teachers are often most familiar with the support their union provides when it comes to negotiating contracts or filing grievances. The support that CEA staff offers to members extends far beyond those issues, however, as teachers in East Hartford and Manchester found out recently.

Teachers in both districts have seen a sharp rise in problematic behavior among students in recent years. From out and out assaults to a variety of troubling behaviors, some students’ actions and the lack of policies and procedures to address them have been severely impacting classroom learing and the morale of the teaching staff.

Some teachers have been forced to move their students out of the classrooms on a regular basis, sometimes daily, due to one student’s behavior. Surprisingly, many of the worst problems have been at the elementary level and often teachers were unclear about what the law is and what their rights are.

When they learned about the issues Manchester and East Hartford teachers were facing, CEA UniServ Representative Suzanne Haviland, CEA Program Development Specialist Robyn Kaplan-Cho, and CEA Attorneys Melanie Kolek and Adrienne DeLucca took action. They organized a workshop to inform teachers about their rights and strategize ways to improve the situation.

Teachers said they found the information CEA staff presented invaluable.

One teacher said, “I learned a great deal regarding teachers’ rights that I didn’t even know I had.”

“Thank you for making my rights clear to me,” another teacher said. “I’ve taught first grade for 30 years and cannot believe what is happening behaviorally in our classrooms.”

Kolek covered law governing in- and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions as well as restraint training. She stressed that, even for teachers who have received restraint training, nothing in state statute requires a teacher to enter into a restraint with a student.

Workers’ compensation can help cover any physical injury that arises out of and in the course of a teacher’s employment. Kolek said that any time a teacher is injured at work, he or she should file a First Report of Injury with the Human Resources Department and an incident report with the school nurse.

Kaplan-Cho explained the various reports that teachers can file if they are assaulted by a student—ranging from an internal report that is filed with the school principal that must by law be forwarded to the local police authority, to teachers filing a criminal complaint directly with the police. State law prohibits any administrator from interfering with a teacher’s right to file a complaint directly with police. Kaplan-Cho also explained what additional steps must be taken when the student who committed the assault is receiving special education services.

“First and foremost, it’s vital to keep your local Association apprised of all incidents,” Kaplan-Cho stressed. “Then your local leaders can follow up with administration and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the safety of students and teachers.”

A teacher said the workshop, “Reminded me to make sure to document and report everything.”

CEA’s Legal Department provides numerous services to members. DeLucca outlined how teachers can protect themselves against unfounded allegations and teachers’ responsibilities as mandated reporters.

DeLucca said that, as mandated reporters, teachers must report observations, allegations, facts, or statements by a child, victim, or third party related to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse or neglect. Click here for a DCF chart on recognizing child abuse and neglect.

Teachers found the workshop very timely. “I’m so glad we are being heard,” one said.

“Thank you for empowering me,” a teacher said. “I will take this information to my colleagues and hopefully we will be able to band together to effect change.”

This workshop is one of many that CEA regularly offers to local Associations. Contact your local Association president or CEA UniServ Representative to schedule one in your area.

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