MD delegate wants to extend civil immunity for teachers

Before the day begins, Baltimore City Pre-K Instructor Berol Dewdney, 2022-2023 Maryland Teacher of the Year, speaks to a student as part of a process for the class to play with blocks and talk to peers. (Shannon Clark/Principal Intelligence Service)

ANNAPOLIS — School staff would receive protection from lawsuits arising out of the disciplining of students under a Del. Robin Grammer, R-Baltimore, due to be heard at Wednesday’s General Assembly.

“We have significant problems with public education,” Grammer told Capital News Service on Thursday. “The discipline issues are real, very real, despite the politics involved.” Fearing court cases, teachers are afraid to intervene in bullying and other disciplinary issues, and that means, he said, fewer teachers or teachers leave the profession early.

Melissa Dirks, President of the Frederick County Teachers Association, agrees.

“Although educators still show up every day and do the best they can with the resources — the very scarce resources — that we have available, not all parts of the community show the same respect,” she told Capital News Service continued Friday.

The proposed law, HB0137, aims to protect teachers who intervene in fights or other instances of student misconduct from any civil liability they may face for property damage or personal injury, provided they have in good faith and without acted negligently. A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Wednesday, January 25 at 2:30 p.m. before the House Judiciary Committee; It will also be live streamed on YouTube.

Current law states that if an educator is sued and awarded damages, the district school board is financially responsible. The Code of Maryland Regulations also ensures that the county board is now required to provide legal advice to school staff if the act was performed “without malice” and if they were “acting in an authorized official capacity.”

Dirks pointed out that the draft law would not change the current law too drastically, but would set out specifically what and in which situations a school employee would and would not be liable.

“Any time we can provide clarity and ensure educators are allowed to intervene without fear to protect students, that’s a good thing,” she said.

That was Grammer’s goal when introducing the bill during this session, although a nearly identical bill failed in the 2020 session.

“You’re looking for simple ways you can positively change policy to improve the environment, no matter what policy scope you’re looking at,” Grammer said. “I thought that was a really positive bill. It’s not revolutionary or groundbreaking, but it’s something you could do. It’s a small change you can make to just tell the teachers when you intervene to prevent anyone from getting hurt, we’ve got your back.

He hopes the bill will give teachers more power to control their classroom environment in a way that best serves their students.

“The safety of our students is always of the utmost importance, and we have seen time and again educators putting their bodies on the line for the sake of their students,” Dirks said. “That happens with or without this law, but it’s good for educators to know that they have the support of the legislature and the law in this situation.”

The law was first introduced during the 2020 regular session by former delegate and Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox. In addition to Cox and Grammer, 32 other delegates, including six Democrats still in the House of Representatives, supported the bill, then called HB802.

“You know, Delegate Cox was more of a controversial person, and I suspect towards the end there that’s probably why it failed,” Grammar said. “So I thought let’s bring it back, … give it a try and see if we can pull it off.”

In his testimony on the bill in 2020, Cox told lawmakers teachers are facing challenges they didn’t anticipate.

“A teacher shouldn’t have to worry about personal liability when engaging in a small scuffle or a school-wide brawl,” he said. “Teachers shouldn’t have to worry about being sued for stopping one student from harming another.”

Dirks, who also testified for the law in 2020, agreed with Cox at the time on what the teachers’ role should be.

“Educators must be able to focus our attention on the academic needs and physical safety of our students without fear of reprisal or risk of civil liability for good faith actions taken to protect them,” he said Dirks in her 2020 written testimony.

While passed in the House of Representatives on March 11, 2020, the law died after being referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Grammer said he hopes that when House freshmen look at it with fresh eyes, the bill will gain enough support to become law.

“It’s well written, it’s very short. It passed unanimously and had bipartisan support,” Grammer said of the law and its predecessor. “I think one of the opportunities this year is to really go through all these guidelines and let the newbies hear a lot about it and it’s going to be brand new to them.”

Grammer said the current bill is the same as the one passed by the House of Representatives during the 2020 legislative session. This includes an amendment proposed by the Maryland Association for Justice, which further specifies that the employee’s actions must have been “reasonably circumspect” and the actions were not “grossly negligent, intentional, willful or intentionally tortious.”

“We worked with this sponsor of the law back in 2020 to improve the immunity provision to include a standard of conduct of reasonable caution in the circumstances so that the bill would clarify what behavior will be protected and what behavior will not be protected,” said George Tolley, who was MAJ’s Legislative Chair in 2020, on their proposed amendments.

Those wishing to testify on this bill will do so at the hearing on the 25th. If passed, this law would go into effect on October 1st.


Leave a Comment