“You can’t touch me. I am going to tell my mother that you put your hands on me.”

School employees hear this all the time. But what are the rules? What can happen to a school employee that restrains a student or uses force against a student? School employees have a duty to protect their students to the best of their ability. This sometimes means touching student to gain control. School employees are faced with the daunting question of whether or not to restrain a student in one way or another. Before you find yourself in this situation, know the limits placed on educators by state law and your local board policy.

Board Policy

District board policies allow a school employee to apply appropriate physical restraint to a student for several reasons. Most Board Policies for example, state: “Within the scope of an employee’s duties, a District employee may physically restrain a student if the employee reasonably believes restraint is necessary in order to:
  • Protect a person, including the person using physical restraint, from physical injury.
  • Obtain possession of a weapon or other dangerous object.
  • Remove a student refusing a lawful command of a school employee from a specific location, including a classroom or other school property, in order to restore order or to impose disciplinary measures.
  • Control an irrational student.
  • Protect property from serious damage.”
 

What Does Texas State Law Tell Us?

State law sets out the grounds for a professional employee’s use of physical force. Section 9.62 of the Texas Penal Code states: “Educator-Student. The use of force, but not deadly force, against a person is justified:
  • if the actor is entrusted with the care, supervision, or administration of the person for a special purpose; and
  • when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is necessary to further the purpose or to maintain discipline in a group.”
Further, Texas Education Code Section 22.0512 states:
  • “A professional employee of a school district may not be subject to disciplinary proceedings for the employee’s use of physical force against a student to the extent justified under Section 9.62, Penal Code.
  • In this section, “disciplinary proceeding” means: an action brought by the school district employing a professional employee of a school district to discharge or suspend the employee or terminate or not renew the employee’s term contract; or an action brought by the State Board for Educators Certification to enforce the educator’s code of ethics adopted under Section 21.041(b) (8).”
This means that if a professional employee acts within the law with reasonable force, the district may not terminate or non-renew the employee based on the use of the restraint. The Commissioner of Education has also ruled that, “If a professional employee is using justifiable force to restrain a student, a district cannot take action against the employee because the action was in violation of an administrator’s command, or for that matter a district policy. A district cannot prohibit a professional employee from using force justified under Texas Penal Code section 9.62, except for when an employee violates a corporal punishment policy.” Earthly v. Fort Bend Independent School District, Docket No. 040-R2-0209. Please note, using “reasonable force” for disciplinary reasons is different from corporal punishment.  Most districts prohibit corporal punishment.