Steve Lash//March 23, 2023
//March 23, 2023
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office is urging the General Assembly to pass legislation immunizing school teachers and staff from civil liability if they negligently harm a student or cause property damage while breaking up a school fight.
In written testimony to lawmakers, the office called it “axiomatic that teachers who intervene in reasonably prudent manners should not be held liable for personal injury or property damage.”
House Bill 137 would hold teachers and other school officials liable only if their intervention was grossly negligent, wanton or with intent to cause harm.
HB 137, which the House passed this month with just one dissenting vote, came before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday.
“Teachers often report that they feel pinched by expectations of the school system while feeling unequipped to handle the situations they encounter,” Del. Robin L. Grammer Jr., the bill’s chief sponsor, told the Senate panel.
HB 137 “offers narrow protections for teachers and staff who act to protect the student who is in danger or act to de-escalate a violent situation as long as they act in a prudent manner,” said Grammer, R-Baltimore County. “With this simple change, we can provide significant protections for good actors who act in defense of their students and take personal risk to de-escalate violent situations.”
The General Assembly’s consideration of HB 137 follows the Maryland Supreme Court’s unanimous decision last year that a federal statute immunizing teachers from liability for negligence does not preempt Maryland law, which provides that educators may be held liable but indemnified by their local school boards.
In Gambrill v. Board of Education of Dorchester County, the high court said the federal Paul D. Coverdell Teacher Protection Act did not apply to a teacher’s alleged negligence in not adequately disciplining unruly students whose misbehavior resulted in a student suffering head injuries.
Under current Maryland law, teachers and other school personnel may “take reasonable action necessary to prevent violence on school premises or on a school-sponsored trip, including intervening in a fight or physical struggle that takes place in his or her presence, whether the fight is among students or other individuals.”
Wicomico County Executive Julie M. Giordano, a public school teacher for 17 years, stated in written testimony that HB 137 would give teachers a needed legal safeguard when protecting students.
“If teachers have to worry about the pursuit of legal action against them and even potentially losing their job for intervening in a student conflict, they are deemed powerless in their classroom and other school settings,” Giordano wrote.
“Safety of students while in the school building is a top concern of every teacher and staff member,” Giordano added. “This bill will give teachers the protections should they have to take action if an incident occurs, without having to worry about potential legal action against them and losing their jobs.”
The Baltimore Teachers Union submitted testimony in favor of the legislation, stating that teacher intervention is often needed “to promote the safety of our learners, and reduce the risk of harm to them.” The union added that “legal protections for educators are a much-needed improvement in a situation that requires complex solutions.”
The House passed the legislation on a vote of 132-1, with Del. Aaron M. Kaufman, D-Montgomery, the sole nay vote. Kaufman did not immediately respond to a telephone message Thursday seeking comment on his vote.g