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Bill Would Limit Teachers' Right to Use Force on Unruly Students

Brian Grimmett

A bill that would ban teachers from using physical force to stop a student from damaging school property passed out of a house committee Monday. But the legislation may not make it to the Senate before the session ends on Thursday.

Right now state law allows teachers to use physical force against a student in self-defense or to protect other students or property. House Bill 181 would confirm that property damage isn’t reason enough to initiate a physical confrontation with a student. Democratic State Representative Carol Spackman Moss is sponsoring the bill. She says since September 2011, the Utah Disability Law Center has received about 45 complaints about school discipline.

“Eight of them have risen to case level,” Moss says. “In one instance a staff responded to a student’s behavior by pinning him down almost daily.”

Glenna Gallo is Utah’s director of special education. She supports the bill.

“And so we’re trying to say to teachers, there is a model out there,” Gallo says. “There is training out there of ways that we can handle student misconduct. And unless safety is at risk, we’re going to lose those less intrusive measures.

Less intrusive methods could include holding a student’s arm to escort him or her away.

Gallo says Utah doesn’t currently collect data on how often students are physically restrained, or detained with physical force.

Republican Representative Eric Hutchings was one of two lawmakers who voted against the bill.

“To put a teacher at risk of having some sort of legal or professional consequence for just trying to do the right thing and maintain decorum in their classroom or inside a school, is wrong,” Hutchings says. Teachers shouldn’t be expected to do that.”

Glenna Gallo argues HB 181 would give teachers additional training and support for deescalating a potential crisis. Representative Moss says if the bill doesn’t make it through the session this year, she will propose it again next session. 

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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