A matter of discipline: Bill backs teachers

School boards could face fines for punishing faculty

Posted: Tuesday, April 04, 2000

Unfairly punishing teachers who fairly punish students could net school board members a fine. That would be the consequence of a bill that passed the state House on Monday.

House Bill 253, proposed by Rep. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican, requires school districts to work with their communities to come up with school disciplinary and safety programs.

If a teacher disciplines a student according to the plan, the school board would have to back the teacher up, under the bill. Firing or otherwise punishing the teacher for the discipline would be a violation, similar to a traffic ticket. The maximum fine for an individual would be $300, while the maximum penalty for the full board would be $10,000.

``It is a key issue for teachers to know their administration will back them up,'' Dyson said.

An earlier version of the bill would have allowed board members to be charged with a misdemeanor - which is more serious than a violation - if they unfairly punished a teacher for enforcing discipline.

Dyson said he introduced the bill in response to several reports around the state about lax discipline and lack of support for teachers who tried to enforce the rules.

He pointed to an incident in Hydaburg last fall in which a student brought a realistic-looking toy gun to school. The student, who was the daughter of a school board member, received what some thought was a lenient punishment - a one-day suspension. Four Hydaburg teachers quit their jobs shortly thereafter.

Rep. John Davies, a Fairbanks Democrat, said he supported many parts of the bill, but was concerned about imposing penalties on a school board member who may have acted in good faith.

Gene Therriault, a North Pole Republican, worried the bill might discourage people from donating their time to serve on school boards.

Dyson, however, said the bill requires a board to ``knowingly'' allow a teacher to be punished, and that's a high standard to prove. ``I think there's adequate protection here,'' he said.

The bill passed 31-6 on Monday and 33-5 on reconsideration today. Juneau's representatives, Republican Bill Hudson and Democratic Beth Kerttula, were among today's yes votes, although Kerttula voted no on Monday. It still must go through the state Senate.

Juneau School District Superintendent Gary Bader said he doesn't see a need for the bill.

``To my knowledge we haven't had any problems in Juneau that relate to teachers being sanctioned for applying the discipline policy of the district,'' he said.

He worries the bill ``can only have a chilling effect on those people who might want to run for the office.''

The requirement to work with the community to come up with discipline and safety plans is not unreasonable, he said, adding it's something districts already do.

``I think we all want standards for behavior and discipline, and we want them to be uniform and fair. That's not a problem.''

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