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Science Teaching and the Law. Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t give legal advice. But I... will make some reasonable suggestions and will make.

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Presentation on theme: "Science Teaching and the Law. Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t give legal advice. But I... will make some reasonable suggestions and will make."— Presentation transcript:

1 Science Teaching and the Law

2 Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t give legal advice. But I... will make some reasonable suggestions and will make some reasonable suggestions and recommend that you carry liability insurance - even as a student teacher. recommend that you carry liability insurance - even as a student teacher.

3 LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS Illinois Association of School Boards (Fourth Edition, 1996)

4 Safety from a Legal Liability Viewpoint Only act with students in your official capacity as teacher. Only act with students in your official capacity as teacher. –you can safely send a student to retrieve something needed in class from a school official, another teacher, or even a storeroom –you can not safely send a student to perform a personal favor no matter the location Never put yourself in a potentially litigious situation (“behind closed doors”). Never put yourself in a potentially litigious situation (“behind closed doors”). Consider carrying liability insurance (IEA, STT-level membership, $1M). Consider carrying liability insurance (IEA, STT-level membership, $1M). The type of liability depends upon type of offence: The type of liability depends upon type of offence: –willful and wanton misconduct –negligence –failure to follow safety requirements –violation of civil law

5 Liability Criminal liability -- you do something against civil law: Criminal liability -- you do something against civil law: –Physical abuse or sexual misconduct –Theft of school property or misappropriation of funds –Improperly releasing student grades Typically willful and wanton misconduct Tort liability -- you do something opposed to professional ethics: Tort liability -- you do something opposed to professional ethics: –Inadvertently releasing student grades –Thoughtlessly putting students in dangerous situations –Providing faulty equipment or having unsafe environment Typically negligent conduct

6 Willful & Wanton Misconduct Willful and wanton misconduct is an intentional act or an act committed under circumstances exhibiting a reckless disregard for the safety of others, such as a failure - after knowledge of impending danger - to exercise ordinary care to prevent it or a failure to discover the danger through recklessness, or carelessness when it could have been discovered by ordinary care. Willful and wanton misconduct is an intentional act or an act committed under circumstances exhibiting a reckless disregard for the safety of others, such as a failure - after knowledge of impending danger - to exercise ordinary care to prevent it or a failure to discover the danger through recklessness, or carelessness when it could have been discovered by ordinary care.

7 Negligence Negligence is a failure to exercise the degree of care which the prudent professional would exercise under similar conditions. Negligence is a failure to exercise the degree of care which the prudent professional would exercise under similar conditions. What is the difference between negligence and willful and wanton misconduct? What is the difference between negligence and willful and wanton misconduct? Willful and wanton misconduct requires an intentional act or an act committed under circumstances exhibiting a reckless disregard for the safety of others; negligence is a failure to act when prudent and professional practice calls for it. Willful and wanton misconduct requires an intentional act or an act committed under circumstances exhibiting a reckless disregard for the safety of others; negligence is a failure to act when prudent and professional practice calls for it.

8 Immunity - in loco parentis (Sections 24 and 38-84a of ISCL) Applies to teachers, not student teachers. Applies to teachers, not student teachers. Protects such persons from liability for negligence in matters relating to supervision of students in school activities whether on or off school grounds. Protects such persons from liability for negligence in matters relating to supervision of students in school activities whether on or off school grounds. Does not immunize teachers from liability for willful and wanton misconduct. Does not immunize teachers from liability for willful and wanton misconduct. Does not apply to negligently supplying students with faulty equipment or unsafe environments. Does not apply to negligently supplying students with faulty equipment or unsafe environments. School district can be held vicariously liable for willful and wanton acts of teaching acting within scope of employment. School district can be held vicariously liable for willful and wanton acts of teaching acting within scope of employment. Teachers may not be held liable for the negligence of others. Teachers may not be held liable for the negligence of others.

9 Immunity - Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/1-101 et seq.) Immunizes local public entities (school districts) and their employees from certain types of negligence. Immunizes local public entities (school districts) and their employees from certain types of negligence. Section 1-202 defines “employee” as “present or former officer, member of a board, commission, or committee, agent, volunteer, servant or employee, whether or not compensated.” Section 1-202 defines “employee” as “present or former officer, member of a board, commission, or committee, agent, volunteer, servant or employee, whether or not compensated.” Section 210 defines “willful and wanton conduct” as “a course of action which shows an actual or deliberate intention to cause harm that, if not intentional, shows an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others or their property.” Section 210 defines “willful and wanton conduct” as “a course of action which shows an actual or deliberate intention to cause harm that, if not intentional, shows an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others or their property.”

10 Tort Immunity Act (cont.) Section 2-201 immunizes public employees for liability for injuries resulting from discretionary acts, but not for acts that are ministerial. Section 2-201 immunizes public employees for liability for injuries resulting from discretionary acts, but not for acts that are ministerial. –“Discretionary Acts” are made in determining policy (what is done). –“Ministerial Acts” are required for performance of duty (how it is done). Section 2-204 immunizes public employees, acting within their employment, from acts or omissions of others. Section 2-204 immunizes public employees, acting within their employment, from acts or omissions of others. Section 3-108 immunizes a local public entity and a local public employee from supervising activities on public property unless the entity or employee engages in willful and wanton conduct in the supervision. Section 3-108 immunizes a local public entity and a local public employee from supervising activities on public property unless the entity or employee engages in willful and wanton conduct in the supervision.

11 Responsibilities of Cooperating Teachers Cooperating teachers have the duty of supervising students in their own classroom (e.g., they can’t legally transfer this responsibility to a clinical student, a student teacher, or an non-certificated adult unless that adult is a substitute teacher). Cooperating teachers have the duty of supervising students in their own classroom (e.g., they can’t legally transfer this responsibility to a clinical student, a student teacher, or an non-certificated adult unless that adult is a substitute teacher). Cooperating teachers have responsibility for supervising clinical students and student teachers and might be liable for their actions. Cooperating teachers have responsibility for supervising clinical students and student teachers and might be liable for their actions.

12 Science Teaching and The Law Laws Concerning Education Laws Concerning Education Teacher Liability Teacher Liability The Science Curriculum The Science Curriculum Avoiding Trouble: Ensuring Student Safety Avoiding Trouble: Ensuring Student Safety Avoiding Trouble: Knowing the Special- Interest and Pressure Groups Avoiding Trouble: Knowing the Special- Interest and Pressure Groups Avoiding Trouble: Accounting for Funds and Equipment Avoiding Trouble: Accounting for Funds and Equipment If, Nevertheless, Trouble Comes... If, Nevertheless, Trouble Comes... Taking Positive Action Taking Positive Action

13 Laws Concerning Education Federal Authority Federal Authority –is power that comes from U.S. Constitution. –preserves general welfare of U.S. citizens. State Authority State Authority –establishes and maintains public school system. –creates and enforces laws regarding education. School Board Authority School Board Authority –exercised over curriculum. –exercised in certain school procedures. Teacher Authority Teacher Authority –comes from various legal interpretations of law. –comes from mandates of the school board. –IS required to enforce law, school rules, and civil rights.

14 Teacher Liability Common law states that a school district, being a subdivision of the state, cannot be held entirely liable for injuries to pupils. Common law states that a school district, being a subdivision of the state, cannot be held entirely liable for injuries to pupils. –some school boards protect teachers from legal liability –some teacher organizations insure teachers Teachers, in loco parentis, are expected to demonstrate reasonable care. Teachers, in loco parentis, are expected to demonstrate reasonable care. Teacher liability could result from failing the test of foreseeability (field trips, errands, discipline, transporting pupils in cars, labs, demos) Teacher liability could result from failing the test of foreseeability (field trips, errands, discipline, transporting pupils in cars, labs, demos) The teacher is responsible for the safety (physical and emotional) of students -- this includes enforcing civil rights laws. The teacher is responsible for the safety (physical and emotional) of students -- this includes enforcing civil rights laws.

15 The Science Curriculum Teachers are legally obliged to teach the curriculum set by the local school board and the state board of education (Illinois Learning Standards -- Goals 11-13 primarily in science) Teachers are legally obliged to teach the curriculum set by the local school board and the state board of education (Illinois Learning Standards -- Goals 11-13 primarily in science) General methods of teaching are acceptable, but specific formats may be required for “delicate” topics (sex education, AIDS, metric system, substance abuse, evolution, etc.) General methods of teaching are acceptable, but specific formats may be required for “delicate” topics (sex education, AIDS, metric system, substance abuse, evolution, etc.) Teachers must not deny education on the basis or race, religion, gender, sexual preference, disability, national origin, etc. Teachers must not deny education on the basis or race, religion, gender, sexual preference, disability, national origin, etc. Teachers must be fully informed about legal requirements & should speak with supervisor if in doubt. Teachers must be fully informed about legal requirements & should speak with supervisor if in doubt.

16 Avoiding Trouble: Ensuring Student Safety All Illinois teachers are Mandated Reporters for child abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, etc.) All Illinois teachers are Mandated Reporters for child abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, etc.) Teachers must ensure students’ classroom safety. Teachers must ensure students’ classroom safety. –appropriate planning –safety instructions –safety equipment in science class room –storage facilities –safe demonstration and lab equipment –eye protection –first aid kits –tire and tornado regulations Physics teachers must concern themselves with the seven major hazards of physics teaching (electrical, lasers and light, pressurized and vacuum systems, fires, toxic materials, and mechanical systems) Physics teachers must concern themselves with the seven major hazards of physics teaching (electrical, lasers and light, pressurized and vacuum systems, fires, toxic materials, and mechanical systems)

17 Avoiding Trouble: Knowing Interest & Pressure Groups There are several areas of public controversy: There are several areas of public controversy: –sex education and AIDS education –evolution, creation science, and intelligent design –religion and secular humanism –life style choices –alcohol and drug abuse –using animals for experimentation –abortion, euthanasia, and fetal stem cell research Teachers should always consult the school administration for policies relating to these and any other areas of potential controversy. Teachers should always consult the school administration for policies relating to these and any other areas of potential controversy. Being aware that issues exist shouldn’t prevent you from teaching a controversial subject, but look before you leap. Being aware that issues exist shouldn’t prevent you from teaching a controversial subject, but look before you leap.

18 Avoiding Trouble: Accounting for Funds and Equipment Most school systems today require students to purchase their own textbooks. Most school systems today require students to purchase their own textbooks. Some teachers deal with small amounts of cash such as lab fees, breakage fees, and commodities. Deposit regularly; get receipts. Some teachers deal with small amounts of cash such as lab fees, breakage fees, and commodities. Deposit regularly; get receipts. Be certain money is spent only for those purposes for which it was allocated. Be certain money is spent only for those purposes for which it was allocated. Money is best spent through official purchase orders, or reimbursed to teacher through official channels. Money is best spent through official purchase orders, or reimbursed to teacher through official channels.

19 If, Nevertheless, Trouble Comes... Don’t fight liability problems alone. Consult Don’t fight liability problems alone. Consult –supervisors and administrators –union representatives –insurance company –attorneys and state statutes –local, state, and national teacher organizations Always act in a prudent and professional manner. Always act in a prudent and professional manner. But, first, know your rights and limitations, and make use of this information before you get into trouble. But, first, know your rights and limitations, and make use of this information before you get into trouble.

20 Taking Positive Action Be proactive, not reactive. Be proactive, not reactive. Protect yourself. Protect yourself. –Document procedures and events. –Find witnesses immediately. –Avoid compromising situations. –Avoid even the appearance of impropriety. –Don’t be afraid to place blame where it belongs, but... –Never accept liability under any circumstances. –Acquaint yourself with the parents of students. –A well-timed apology for minor circumstances may be very effective if appropriate. Know the limits of the law and liability. Know the limits of the law and liability. Consult supervisors, lawyers, and professional organizations as appropriate. Consult supervisors, lawyers, and professional organizations as appropriate.


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