Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter.
Written by attorney Thomas B. Mooney.
Dear Legal Mailbag:
I don’t dare ask her, but I think that one of the teachers in my school has “histrionic personality disorder,” which DSM V describes as “a pervasive pattern of excessive emotionality and attention seeking, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.” The latest manifestation was her response to a student’s exuberantly waving his arms in class. Unfortunately, the student inadvertently struck the teacher in the mouth and bloodied her lip. It would, of course, be perfectly appropriate for the teacher to file a workers’ comp claim, but that would be mundane, as the teacher would say. Instead, the teacher sent me her “charges” against this student, and she demanded that I file a police report and seek prosecution.
I refrained from calling her “crazy” (thankfully I took that school law course), but I did tell her that I would not be filing anything with anyone. I thought that was the end of it, but yesterday I received a call from her union representative, who accused me of violating the law. “Are you crazy? Don’t you know,” she asked dismissively, “that you are legally required to file a police report whenever a teacher asks you to? Maybe we should file a report about you!” It was a short but unpleasant conversation.
What is the union representative talking about? Do I have anything to worry about?
Who’s Crazy Here
A little learning is a dangerous thing. There is a statute that requires that you convey reports to the police under certain circumstances. But this is not one of those circumstances, and you do not have anything to worry about.
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-233g(a) may be the statute that the union representative was talking about. It provides:
Sec. 10-233g. Reports of principals to police authority concerning physical assaults upon school employees by students. (a) Where there is a physical assault made by a student upon a teacher or other school employee on school property or in performance of school duties and such teacher or employee files a written report with the school principal based upon such assault, the school building principal shall report such physical assault to the local police authority.
As you see from reading this statute, when a teacher or other school employee files a report that a student assaulted him or her, the principal is obligated to file a report with the police. There is, however, an important condition to this obligation – there must have actually been an assault.
To be sure, there can be debate over whether an assault has occurred in a particular situation. One dictionary definition of “assault” is “a physical attack,” and that definition presupposes an intentional act. Given your description of the events here, the student didn’t intend to strike the teacher, but rather he hit her accidentally. In this case, therefore, it would not be fair to describe this unfortunate event as an assault, and you may simply decline to file the requested report with the police.
In considering such requests, you should keep three things in mind. First, characterizing an interaction between a student and a teacher as an “assault” can have significant legal consequences. The statutes differentiate between work-related injuries and assaults. Employees who are injured in the course of their employment are protected by the workers’ compensation statutes. School employees who are injured as a result of an “assault” are entitled to significantly greater protections. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-236a(b) provides that:
(b) Any teacher or employee absent from employment as a result of injury sustained during an assault or for a court appearance in connection with such assault shall continue to receive his or her full salary, while so absent, except that the amount of any workers’ compensation award may be deducted from salary payments during such absence. The time of such absence shall not be charged against such teacher or employee’s sick leave, vacation time or personal leave days.” (Emphasis added).
These statutory provisions reflect the public policy in Connecticut to protect teachers who are assaulted. However, when the events in question do not constitute an assault, it is important not to concede that the teacher was “assaulted” simply because the teacher claims to have been assaulted.
Second, principals have the right to make judgments in such cases. If there is no injury, the principal may simply decline to file the teacher’s report with the police. Conversely, in some cases, it will be clear that a student did assault a teacher, and the principal should file with the police any report he or she receives from the teacher. However, there will be the cases that fall in between, i.e., the teacher is injured, but the principal does not consider the incident to constitute an assault, and the teacher claims to the contrary. In such cases, a principal may wish to file the report with the police with a cover letter explaining why the principal does not consider the event to have been an assault.
Finally, even if the principal does not consider the events in question to have been an assault, the teacher has every right to file his or her report directly with the police. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-233g(b) provides:
(b) No school administrator shall interfere with the right of a teacher or other employee of a board of education to file a complaint with the local police authority in cases of threats of physical violence and in cases of physical assaults by a student against such teacher or employee.
Please note that this statutory protection applies not only to reports of assault, but also to reports of threats of physical violence, which are not otherwise addressed in either subsection (a) of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-233g or in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-236a.
Aren’t you glad you asked?