Teacher-Student Abuse Laws

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 What is Considered Abuse of a Student?

When young students leave their homes each morning to go to school, they will face a wide range of new experiences and situations. In a typical school week, children spend more time at school during the daytime than they do with their parents in the evenings.

Because of this, it is important for parents to be aware of what is happening while their children are away for the day. Schools have a legal obligation to make all reasonable efforts to keep their students safe.

Schools have a duty to monitor their students’ environments to ensure they are safe from dangers. Unfortunately, in some cases, the danger comes in the form of a teacher.

Abuse of a student occurs when a teacher violates the rights of the student or endangers their well-being or safety. These types of incidents are treated very seriously. 

Both federal and state law strictly regulates the standards by which a teacher is required to conduct themselves. Any teacher that violates educational standards may be subject to civil and criminal penalties.

Although it is not extremely common for teachers to abuse students, it does happen more often than most individuals realize. However, many students, especially younger children, may not be aware that they were subjected to mistreatment. Because of this, it is important to both students and their parents to be aware of any situations that may be considered abusive.

What are Some Examples of Teacher-Student Abuse?

Abuse of students can occur in many forms and may involve circumstances that are not necessarily physically abusive. Common examples of student abuse by a teacher include:

  • Emotional, physical, or sexual harassment of the child;
  • Excessive or unauthorized use of corporal punishment, or physical force;
  • Discrimination based on protected categories, including: 
    • race; 
    • gender; or 
    • disability;
  • Restrictions on the constitutional rights of the student, such as those involving freedom of expression and free speech; 
  • Failure to address special needs of the student, such as handicap access;
  • Unfair academic treatment, such as bias or preferential treatment in grading;
  • Denial of educational opportunities.

As noted above, one of the major issues with student abuse by a teacher is that many young students may not recognize that they are being abused. An example of this may include verbal abuse in schools by teachers. It is important for parents to get involved with their child’s education and be aware if their child informs them of any of the abusive circumstances noted above. 

Is it Illegal to Keep Students after the Bell?

While students may not be pleased to know, there are no direct laws against keeping students in the classroom after the bell rings. The policies and regulations of a school may provide specific rules regarding the bell. 

However, it is important for teachers not to abuse their power to keep students in the classroom after the bell rings. The bell does not actually dismiss the students from class, the teacher does. A bell is simply a timekeeping tool. The teacher has the duty to keep their students safe.

Examples of how bells may function include:

  • A first bell indicating there are a few minutes before the next class begins;
  • A second bell indicating time is running out; and 
  • A final bell indicating the next class is starting.

In a perfect school world, the teacher and the bell would function in unison. However, that does not always occur. In some cases, a teacher may hold students after the bell rings for reasons such as:

  • They ran out of time for their lesson;
  • They need to make an important announcement; or
  • They want to punish the entire class.

A teacher is not allowed to physically stop, restrain, or injure a student, except for in specific dangerous or medical situations. These may include:

  • Stopping the students from leaving the room in the event of an active shooter;
  • Holding a student when they are having a seizure.

A teacher cannot legally stop a student from leaving the classroom. However, it is also not illegal to keep a student after the bell. 

While that does not provide much clarity, the right to leave the classroom is protected under various abuse laws. These laws provide students the legal right to:

  • Leave to use the restroom;
  • Having time to each lunch or time to purchase and eat a school lunch; and
  • To leave to see the nurse or for medical care.

In most cases, a school will respect a teacher’s decision to hold students late after a class. This is because when a student is at school, the teacher is the de facto guardian, which gives the teacher rights almost equal to a parent. 

What Should I Do if My Child was Mistreated at School?

If an individual believes that their child was mistreated or abused at school by a teacher or another educational worker, there are several steps that they may take to get involved. These steps include:

  • Immediately contacting the school board and school officials;
  • Familiarizing themselves with school regulations and policies governing teacher conduct;
  • Requesting that the school district investigate the incident;
  • Filing for an investigation with a government agency, if necessary; and
  • Filing a private civil lawsuit.

If an individual discovers an incident at school, they should contact the school board immediately. A meeting should be scheduled as soon as possible so that the incident will still be fresh on the student’s mind. In addition, any delays in informing the authorities regarding an incident may negatively affect a future claim.

It is important for the individual to familiarize themselves with school regulations and policies that govern teacher conduct. They should also inquire if the school district has had previous incidents of abuse of students.

Next, the individual should request that the school district conduct an investigation. A written, formal explanation of findings should be requested. An individual can report a teacher for harassment by filing a complaint with their school district.

If the school board cannot or does not provide an adequate solution to the issue, an individual may have to file a complaint with a government agency, such as the Department of Education. The Department will then conduct an investigation into the alleged abuse and will prescribe corrective measures if they are appropriate.

If the investigation by the government agency is still not adequate, the individual may wish to file a private civil lawsuit to recover for any injuries or losses incurred. In some cases, an individual must file a claim with a government agency before they are permitted to file a lawsuit. There may also be criminal charges filed, depending on the circumstances. 

It is important to take any complaints for a child very seriously. An individual will not be penalized in any way for filing a report with their school district or a government agency. Student safety is one of the top concerns of any state, so it is essential to file an accurate and timely report if an individual suspects abuse. 

Unfortunately, in some cases, bullying occurs by a teacher and is directed at a student. While it may be possible to sue a teacher for abuse of power, it depends on the specific laws in the state and the policies of the school.

Do I Need a Lawyer If My Child Has Been Abused by a Teacher?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of a government lawyer if your child has been abused by a teacher. Second to the parent-child relationship, this is one of the most important relationships in your child’s life. 

If you suspect that your child’s teacher has abused them in any way, you should immediately contact school authorities. If you are unsure of how to begin this process, a lawyer will gladly help. If you believe the situation may be dangerous for your child, it may be necessary to alert law enforcement.

Your attorney can review your situation, advise you of the laws in your area and your rights under those laws, and assist you with the complaint process. Your attorney can also help you file a civil lawsuit, if necessary, and represent you during any court proceedings.


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