When May Teachers Use Reasonable Force?

A client recently contacted us with the following situation and questions:  “A teacher broke up a ‘fight’ at school yesterday.  In doing so, he put his hand on one boy’s neck/shoulder to separate him from hitting the other student.  Today, Dad comes on campus and reports to the principal that the teacher put his hands on his son’s neck and that he was going to file a complaint through the sheriff’s department.  Dad then went to the teacher’s classroom and made the following threat:  ‘Don’t you ever touch my kid again!’  We have placed the teacher on paid administrative leave while this is under investigation.  Does a teacher have a responsibility to intervene in situations such as this in order to prevent further injury to students or self?  When may a teacher use physical force to protect students?”

The short answer to these questions is that the Dad is wrong.  The Education Code recognizes that teachers (and other certificated employees) have a responsibility to intervene physically in order to protect students.  A teacher may use reasonable force in order to quell a disturbance, protect others, in self-defense or to take possession of weapons.

Education Code section 44807 provides that “Every teacher in the public schools shall hold pupils to a strict account for their conduct on the way to and from school, on the playgrounds, or during recess.  A teacher, vice principal, principal, or any other certificated employee of a school district, shall not be subject to criminal prosecution or criminal penalties for the exercise, during the performance of his duties, of the same degree of physical control over a pupil that a parent would be legally privileged to exercise but which in no event shall exceed the amount of physical control reasonably necessary to maintain order, protect property, or protect the health and safety of pupils, or to maintain proper and appropriate conditions conducive to learning.” The provisions of this section are in addition to and do not supersede the provisions of Section 49000.  (Emphasis added.)

Education Code section 49001(a) provides in pertinent part, “An amount of force that is reasonable and necessary for a person employed by or engaged in a public school to quell a disturbance threatening physical injury to persons or damage to property, for purposes of self-defense, or to obtain possession of weapons or other dangerous objects within the control of the pupil, is not and shall not be construed to be corporal punishment within the meaning and intent of this section.”  (Emphasis added.)

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