Texas teachers more protected from student harassment under new state law

By Sarah Acosta - Reporter, Rob Garza - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - A new state law was enacted this legislative session to protect teachers against student harassment. 

Starting this fall semester, the law requires that students who harass teachers or any school district employee be placed in a disciplinary alternative education program.

“I've had kids throw things at me, spit at me, cuss at me,” said Sonya Timmerman, a student teacher who is finishing her training in the middle school level.

Timmerman said harassment from students is something that teachers deal with daily.

“It does put that control in the teachers’ hands,” said Shelley Potter, president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers.

Previously, if a teacher was harassed, it was up to the discretion of the district on how to proceed with discipline of the student. Potter said teachers should feel safe in the classroom, but how students are disciplined is a delicate balance.

“We want to make sure that that is balanced with not becoming a school-to-prison pipeline,” Potter said.

Johnny Osburn, a father of three children, said he disagrees with the new law.

“I believe that's wrong,” he said.

Osburn said the punishment of alternative school for a one-time offense is too harsh, especially for students who might just be having a bad day or hard time at home.

“I believe that the alternative school is not another option on my end unless the child continues to keep doing it,” he said.

Even as a teacher who has been harassed and believes teachers should feel safe, Timmerman said she believes there are other solutions that can better protect not just teachers but also the students.

“Try putting cameras in the classrooms,” she said. “It will protect the teachers; it will show parents exactly what's going on and it will protect the students, as well.”

Timmerman said it’s crucial for teachers not to abuse the new law. She said she can understand both sides. She has a child with special needs and said she believes she would be upset if a teacher wrote off her son.

“I would be devastated if my son's not getting the knowledge and the help or concern or even the compassion that he deserves,” Timmerman said.

Potter said the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers will be encouraging teachers to educate parents and students about the new law.

She said the process will be a combination of Texas Education Agency regulations and district disciplinary process.

Potter said most districts have hearing officers that will continue to determine actions regarding students.

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