Showing posts with label When The Teacher Is The School Bully. Show all posts
Showing posts with label When The Teacher Is The School Bully. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When The Teacher Is The School Bully

Anti-bullying laws may now have a significant impact on what is considered to be “emotional abuse” in schools.  Recently, the Connecticut Supreme Court concluded that a teacher’s bullying behavior toward a student met the legal definition of emotional abuse.Nicholas Frank v. Department of Children and Families, SC 18980, July 8, 2014.   In this case, a sixth grade teacher, Nicholas Frank, had been placed on the central registry of abuse and neglect after the Department of Children and Families [“DCF”] found that he had emotionally abused one of his students.  The abuse came in the form of targeting an overweight boy in his class by repeatedly calling him demeaning and embarrassing names — such as “pregnant,” “birthing mother,” “cheeks,” “fish out of water,” — painfully pinching the student’s cheeks, and effectively encouraging other students in the class to join in.  As a result, the student began to suffer from anxiety, bedwetting, fear of school and reduced academic performance. The teacher’s primary defense was that his comments were jokes, said in an effort to keep a light atmosphere in the classroom and could not be considered to be abuse as that term was too vague to apply to his situation.
This case had started as an appeal of a DCF hearing officer’s decision to keep the teacher’s name on the registry of abuse and neglect. The Court concluded that the hearing officer’s decision was based upon substantial evidence, and thus worthy of deference by the Court, and that the abuse and neglect law as applied to this teacher was not unconstitutionally vague.  In other words, the teacher had fair notice that his behavior fell within the statutory definition of abuse.  Such notice came mostly from DCF policy, but also, quite notably, from the anti-bullying and safe school climate law.
In Connecticut, bullying policies and safe school climate plans do not apply to teacher conduct toward students.  Acknowledging this, the Court stated that “[a]lthough the statute is expressly directed at student conduct intended to cause harm, it directs teachers to take an active role in preventing and responding to bullying.”  The Court went on to note that teachers play a vital role in minimizing, if not eliminating bullying among students.  Therefore, the anti-bullying law is further proof that this teacher should have known that his behavior was abusive.

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