Assault or Not?

During an assembly last week a high school student threw a pencil at the back of a teacher’s head but missed. The student had just received news he didn’t like and chucked the pencil. The vice-principal removed him from this teacher’s class, but the receiving teacher did not know why the student was added, and the student did not get a suspension. With the past administration the receiving teacher was notified, and the student would have been suspended.

I’m happy the student is no longer in the teacher’s class, but I wonder where the line is drawn when considering what is an assault on a teacher and what is not. After reading the NEA article about violence towards teachers, I wonder where lines are drawn.

If the student had better aim, would this be considered assault, a suspendable offense?

Is an injury required?

Does assault begin with a punch?

I also worry about the precedent set here. This decision will affect the results of future incidents. The student is already gloating about his lack of consequence, essentially excited to get a teacher he likes better.

Will teachers feel they can report incidents such as these if they perceive an acceptable consequence isn’t given?

Will this widen the divide between the teachers and the administrators?

This will be an interesting one to watch. Any thoughts out there in blogland?


4 thoughts on “Assault or Not?

  1. Jim Van Pelt

    How would your administration answer these questions if asked point blank? Are they downplaying the incident? Is it a “out of sight, out of mind” kind of thing?

    Last year we had a change in principals. At the first assembly, the seniors started a cheer of “Bring back . . .” (the old principal). The new principal took it badly, of course, but she took it even worse when the school newspaper reported on it. Since I was advising the paper then, I took the brunt of this. Her stance was that if we didn’t bring it up in the newspaper, it would vanish faster. In other words, not acknowledging that it happened would make it go away. Is your administration like that?

  2. Loraine

    Err, regarding the pencil throwing, I think if you want to make Fark, then make a big deal out of that.

    But the article’s a bit different. Is it taboo for teachers to just call the police if they’re assaulted or threatened? I know school isn’t work, and pardon me for the analogy, but if I were at work and someone threatened me, I’d expect them to be removed AND I would call the police, possibly get a restraining order. I’d do both. Is this not possible with teachers – assuming you’re truly afraid?

  3. drpezz Post author

    Update: the student was suspended yesterday. I get to go to a meeting (groan) to see what’s the stance of the administration on what constitutes assault and what is a suspendable offense and what is not. I think it’s a good idea to receive their opinions, so I’m hoping it goes well. Clarification can only help.

    Loraine, I think the real question is where does assault begin and end? We had a student throw a simple peanut in the cafeteria, and it hit a girl in the eye requiring surgery. It turned into a lawsuit (they lost), but it also raised the question of what determines the consequence: the intent, the attempt, or the result.

  4. Loraine

    That is the real question, true.

    I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that in law, all three determine the consequences: intent, the attempt, and result. This is why we have concepts such as involuntary manslaughter, manslaughter, murder in varying degrees and self-defense. Your intent may have been innocent, but if you were reckless, there are still consequences. The consequences become more severe depending on the result.

    Students are lucky in that schools can pre-filter this for police, perhaps avoiding something that, elsewhere, might lead to a police report. They are unlucky, however, because this means they may also be punished more severely for something that, outside school walls, might only get them a warning or would be completely ignored.

    That said, I did read in a book on teaching recently that the teacher felt a school was better able to teach because it took every discipline issue very seriously, instead of waiting for things to escalate to a certain level.

    I know schools have to grapple with this and in some ways define it, but it does concern me that they might be overstepping their boundaries as an entity.

    Ultimately, defining assault is the domain of law, not schools. So, for instance, if it is legally assault and you do not treat it as such, then the school is putting itself at risk of a very bad lawsuit. (Say, for instance a teacher is later hurt and they sue, or a child is hurt and their parents found out this child was acting out and nothing was done. Or they felt the police should’ve been called in the first place, rather than having it handled internally.)

    As a former reporter and a parent, I’m concerned with the reputation schools have for overstepping their bounds with legal matters in general. For instance, I’m disturbed that schools actually have a slang term (passing the trash) for passing on a teacher who’s sexually inappropriate with students. And the article specifically mentions that teachers felt administrators weren’t reporting assaults to keep their school’s violence record clean.

    I would suggest the school consider a sit-down with police about the topic – not necessarily each specific situation. Seriously – I’ve read police reports, and some of the complaints they get are at this pencil-throwing level. They should be able to give guidance about what would require a report, an arrest and what would not. It’s a starting point and, I would think, more legally sound than just trying to reinvent the wheel within the school system.

    It’s also a good way to teach students about legal boundaries, since one day they’ll have to face dealing with the legal system rather than the school’s interpretation of it.


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