Judge Throws Out Teacher Assault Lawsuit

By: Tony Tagliavia Email
By: Tony Tagliavia Email

Four teachers reported four separate incidents.

A teacher at Pattengill says she was hit when a student threw a leather strap with metal spikes. A Dwight Rich teacher says she was slapped on the back of the neck. And two other teachers -- one at Pattengill, another a Dwight Rich -- say they were struck by chairs thrown by students.

"The behaviors were pretty aggressive on the parts of these students," Lansing Schools Education Association President Jerry Swartz said.

The teachers claim state law forces the district to expel any student, middle school age or older, who assaults a district employee.

That's something everyone actually agrees on.

But what if the actions are not considered assaults? That's what the district decided, leaders say, after a thorough investigation.

School board Vice President Hugh Clarke says it's not as though the district doesn't expel students, including for assaulting faculty or staff.

"We have done that," Clarke said. "We continue to do that as the evidence points in that direction."

In this case, he says, the evidence did not point in that direction.

It was that decision ultimately that led to the court case's dismissal. Brown ruled that since the district did not consider the cases assaults, it could not be forced to expel the students as the teachers wanted.

(The judge also concluded that teachers are not harmed by the district's decision not to expel the students.)

"This court is not going to sit and review the actions of the Lansing School District," Judge Thomas Brown said in court Wednesday.

The court, Brown says, could not be asked to decide whether the district did the right thing in not calling it assault.

But teachers union president Jerry Swartz is asking that question.

"There were two instances of teachers struck by chairs," he said. "That's a pretty challenging situation to suggest that's not assault."

A district spokesman says records show those actions weren't as severe as they sound.

The district could look to recoup court costs given tight budgets, Clarke says. The union will talk with the teachers involved and see how they want to proceed.

Swartz says he will be looking into whether the teachers' allegations were ever forwarded to the prosecuting attorney.

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