- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

If a teacher spots a student trying to wring your daughter's neck, what should he do: A) use force to stop the fight; B) stand ringside like the other students in his class; C) call security and head for the teachers' lounge; D) convene a peer mediation panel? If he's a D.C. teacher, his options are B, C or D. But that could change if the D.C. Board of Education has the backbone to grant teachers considerable authority when disciplining students. And well the board should.

At present, teachers are prohibited from using physical force to change a student's behavior, thought or attitude. So, even when another child is in harm's way, students are hands-off where teachers are concerned. As a matter of fact, teachers' use of force is justifiable only when defending themselves and during "accidental" and "playful" contact. Of course, terms such as "accidental" and "playful" mean different things to different people. To a gym teacher, playful might mean a male coach standing closely behind a female student when trying to show her how to hold a bat during baseball practice. Accidental, however, might mean that same female student feeling uncomfortable because he was too close for comfort when giving those same instructions. So, the board is reworking that loosely defined language.

But board members are on the right track in granting teachers the authority to exercise control if they are caught in violent or emergency situations. Teachers must have the leeway "so that they can control their classrooms and, if people are really disrupting, they can protect other kids or they can move a really dangerous person out of the classroom," board member Roger Wilkins, a professor of history and culture at George Mason University, explained to The Washington Post.

Indeed, metal detectors, surveillance cameras and other precautionary measures have helped to quell school violence in measurable degrees; and there is nothing wrong with a teacher, say, grasping a student's arm and escorting him to the principal's office because he is disrupting class or cruising the hallways. In fact, it's high time that parents and the board began encouraging teachers to do precisely that.

To be sure, every allegation of assault or battery must be taken seriously. Indeed, there were an estimated 200 cases last school year involving allegations of improper force. Fully one-third proved unsubstantiated, while about three-dozen were worthy of further investigations, school officials said. The incidents ranged from a teacher accused of pushing a student to the ground and threatening a student, to a teacher grabbing another student by the arm and ushering him to class. Of course, any teacher guilty of assaulting a student should be backhanded by the law.

Clearly, though, the problem isn't the teachers but the laws and regulations that prohibit them from doing their jobs. After all, teachers need more than chalkboards and textbooks at their disposal. They need control of their classrooms and their charges as well.

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