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A reader asked us to look into an article headlined: "This new bill would allow Texas teachers to kill their students if they felt it was needed."
Good thing Texas lawmakers are no longer in session, eh?
The article, posted in February 2015 on a website called the Greenville Gazette, said the Teacher’s Protection Act "would allow teachers to use deadly force on school property, a school bus, or at an event sponsored by a school either in self-defense or defense of students at the school."
Use of force in the classroom has made headlines. On Oct. 28, 2015, most recently, a school resource officer in South Carolina was fired after a video surfaced of him throwing a female high school student on the ground.
So, was there a proposed act permitting Texas teachers to kill their students if necessary?
The Teacher’s Protection Act
No one at the Gazette responded to us. But a web search led us to a proposed Teacher’s Protection Act. State Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, filed House Bill 868 on Jan. 22, 2015 but it didn’t advance into law or draw a hearing; the last action shown in legislative records was its referral to the House Public Education Committee on March 4, 2015.
The bill says: "An educator is justified in using force or deadly force on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event in defense of the educator’s person or in defense of students of the school that employs the educator if (he or she) reasonably believes" themselves to be "justified under" sections 9.31, 9.32, 9.33 and 9.43 of the Texas Penal Code. Those sections establish that a person can use force or deadly force against another in self defense or in defense of property if the person "reasonably believes" it to be "immediately necessary."
Under the legislation, a teacher would be shielded from from criminal and civil charges "for injury or death that results from the educator’s use of force or deadly force."
While the measure didn’t specify a teacher could kill a student, we asked Flynn if it left that option open. By phone, Flynn said that was not his intent. "That’s a ridiculous statement," he said. "It totally mischaracterizes the bill."
Flynn said the proposal’s purpose was to protect any teacher from facing criminal or civil charges for defending himself or herself against a student assault. "You hear all the time," Flynn said, "that teachers are getting broken noses, being slapped, being pushed around, being taken to the floor by overzealous students who know that they can do it without fear of reprisal." He did not provide specific examples.
Asked about the legislation permitting a teacher to use "deadly force," Flynn said he used the same language that otherwise broadly appears in existing law, perhaps referring to the penal code provisions permitting a person to use force or deadly force against another in self defense or in defense of property if the person "reasonably believes" it to be "immediately necessary."
Call in the lawyers
Next, we asked lawyers by phone to appraise the proposal: Would it allow Texas teachers to kill their students if they felt it was necessary?
All four said Flynn’s proposal would allow a teacher to kill a student, but only if the action was justified under the existing penal code conditions—a limit stressed by Shannon Edmonds of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association and Sam Bassett, president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
Edmonds and Bassett also said teachers may currently use deadly force in keeping with the penal code, though attorney Paul Tapp of the Association of Texas Professional Educators suggested Texas teachers cannot yet typically use deadly force. Tapp pointed us to section 9.62 of Texas Penal Code, which says teachers can use "force, but not deadly force" to "maintain discipline in a group."
After surveying the lawyers, we followed up with Flynn, who maintained that his proposal was not redundant and that teachers are currently not protected from prosecution. He cited "bad press and a lack of understanding about what we’re trying to accomplish" as reasons for the bill not advancing and he said he plans to offer a version of the measure afresh in the 2017 legislative session.
The website declared: "This new bill would allow Texas teachers to kill their students if they felt it was needed."
This statement is partially accurate in that a bill was introduced in 2015 to give teachers greater legal protection if deadly force were employed against a student. But saying that it would "allow Texas teachers to kill their students if they felt it was needed" is a stretch that suggests that the bill would allow teachers to just start firing away.
We rate this claim, which lacks this context, Half True.
HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.
Phone interviews, state Rep. Dan Flynn, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3, 2015
Phone interview, Shannon Edmonds, an attorney and director of governmental affairs at the Texas District County Attorneys Association, Oct. 29, 2015
Phone interview, David Courreges, a board member of the Austin Bar Association and founder of Courreges PC, Nov. 3, 2015
Phone interview, Paul Tapp, managing attorney, the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Nov. 3, 2015
Document, House Bill 868, 2015 Texas legislative session, accessed Oct. 27, 2015
Document, Texas Penal Code, Chapter 9, accessed Oct. 27,2015
Document, Texas Education Code, accessed Nov. 3, 2015
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