Topic:
STUDENTS; TEACHERS; CHILD ABUSE;
Location:
TEACHERS;

OLR Research Report


July 28, 2004

 

2004-R-0608

TEACHER VERBAL ABUSE OF STUDENTS

By: Judith Lohman, Chief Analyst

You asked whether (1) Connecticut has a state law dealing with teachers who verbally abuse students, (2) Connecticut's law on school bullying requires school boards to include teachers in their bullying policies, and (3) any other states have laws protecting students from teachers' verbal abuse.

SUMMARY

Neither Connecticut's school bullying law nor any other state law expressly bars a teacher from verbally abusing a student. Verbal abuse of students by teachers is typically addressed through board of education policies, professional standards of conduct, teacher contracts, performance evaluations, and disciplinary measures.

A computer search of state laws yielded none in any state that expressly prohibit teachers from verbally abusing students. Two states have laws barring verbal abuse in certain situations. Oklahoma prohibits such abuse by caretakers of those in their care while Nevada's law applies only to children with disabilities who are placed in private educational institutions. Both laws include definitions of “verbal abuse.”

Of the 15 states that have school bullying laws, none expressly applies them to teacher conduct. Of the four states that do not explicitly limit their laws to student conduct, three include verbal acts as part of their definition of bullying.

CONNECTICUT

Connecticut has no state law that explicitly prohibits teacher verbal abuse of students. The state's law requiring local boards of education to adopt policies to address bullying in schools does not require those policies to address teacher behavior because its definition of “bullying” covers only acts by students or groups of students that are directed against other students (CGS 10-222d).

Although a teacher's verbal abuse of students is not be expressly dealt with by state law, such conduct may be addressed through board of education policies, teacher contracts, professional codes of conduct, and teacher performance evaluations.

OTHER STATES

Verbal Abuse

A Westlaw computer search of state laws shows that only two states have laws that expressly prohibit “verbal abuse.”

Nevada prohibits private educational institutions and establishments serving children with disabilities from using “verbal and mental abuse” to regulate students' behavior. The law defines such abuse as “actions or utterances that are intended to cause and actually cause severe emotional distress to a person” (NRS 394.365).

Oklahoma prohibits “caretakers” from verbally abusing anyone entrusted to their care or from knowingly causing or permitting such abuse. The Oklahoma law defines verbal abuse as “the repeated use of words, sounds, or other forms of communication by a caretaker, including, but not limited to, language, gestures, actions or behaviors, that are calculated to humiliate or cause fear, embarrassment, shame or degradation” to the person entrusted to his care. Violation is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of one year, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both (21 Okla. Stats. Ann. 843.2).

School Bullying

Fifteen states have laws that address school bullying, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ten define “bullying” in their state laws. None of the 10 expressly includes teacher behavior in the definition. Two states, New Jersey and Oregon, include legislative findings in their laws that commend school administrators, faculty, staff and volunteers for “demonstrating appropriate behavior, treating others with civility and respect and refusing to tolerate harassment, intimidation or bullying” (NJSA 18A: 37-13; ORS 339.353(3)).

Six states, including Connecticut, expressly limit their definitions of “bullying” to student conduct. Four states define bullying in a general way that could encompass teacher behavior. These four laws are summarized in Table 1. Three of the four, Colorado, New Jersey, and Washington, explicitly include verbal acts or expressions in their definitions.

Table 1: State School Bullying Laws Not Explicitly Limited to Student Conduct

State

Requirement

Prohibited Conduct

Areas Covered

Colorado

(CRSA 22-32-109.1(X))

Each school district must adopt a policy on bullying prevention and education.

One or a pattern of written or verbal expressions, physical acts, or gestures intended to cause distress to one or more students.

School grounds, vehicles, designated school bus stops, and school activities and sanctioned events.

New Jersey

(NJSA 18A: 37-14)

Each school district must adopt a policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation, or bullying.

The state education commissioner must develop a model policy applicable to grades K-12.

Any gesture or written, verbal, or physical act reasonably perceived as motivated by an actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap, or any other distinguishing characteristic, that:

● a reasonable person should know under the circumstances, will have the effect of harming a student or damaging his property or putting him in reasonable fear of either; or

● has the effect of insulting or demeaning any student or student group in a way that causes substantial disruption in, or interference with, the school's orderly operation.

School property, school-sponsored functions, and school buses.

-Continued-

State

Requirement

Prohibited Conduct

Areas Covered

Oregon (ORS 339.351)

Each school district must adopt a policy that prohibits harassment, intimidation or bullying of any student.

Any act that substantially interferes with a student's educational benefits, opportunities, or performance and that has the effect of:

● physically harming him or damaging his property or

● creating a hostile educational environment.

On or immediately adjacent to school ground, any school-sponsored activity, school-provided transportation, or official school bus stop.

Washington (RCWA 28A.300.285)

Each school district must adopt a policy that prohibits harassment, intimidation or bullying of any student.

The state superintendent of public instruction must provide a model policy and training materials.

Any intentional written, verbal, or physical act, including one shown to be motivated by a characteristic specified in the state's antidiscrimination law, or any other distinguishing characteristic (but not necessarily one that the student actually possesses), that:

● physically harms a student or damages his property;

● has the effect of substantially interfering with his education;

● is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment; or

● has the effect of substantially disrupting the school's orderly operation.

Not specified.

JL:ts