Commenter Ema has brought my attention to a follow up story on a lawsuit I wrote about here. In short, the parents of two kindergarteners have filed a lawsuit against a school district and a campus principal over alleged ongoing sexual abuse of the girls by a third kindergartner.
While the story itself is interesting, I thought it would be more interesting to the classroom teachers who read this blog to talk about the significance of WHO the parents are suing. Or more to the point, who they are NOT suing. And why that matters when you choose your teachers union.
There is no classroom teacher named in the Eanes lawsuit. And the truth is, most lawsuits that are filed by parents do not include classroom teachers. Texas' strong immunity statutes protect teachers from most types of personal injury claims, and federal civil rights violations must generally be asserted against administrators or the district itself, not individual teachers. The exception is when the teacher him or herself has committed the violation.
Teachers can also be the subject of a lawsuit if they have committed an actual criminal act against a student. The result is that in the many years I've been doing this, I've seen very few classroom teachers sued by parents. Those that have been sued, were mostly teachers who had sexually abused or physically assaulted a student. In general, classroom teachers simply don't get sued, because they have immunity from nearly all state law claims, and they either have immunity or are not the responsible party under most federal law claims (which includes civil rights claims). Classroom teachers don't need liability insurance.
Administrators, on the other hand, do get sued. Administrators do need liability insurance. The liability insurance provided by the teacher groups is mostly for show. However, because all of the teacher groups have some administrators among their membership (yes, all of them, although some have more administrators than others), the cost of providing that insurance is much higher than it would be if it covered only classroom teachers.
Teacher groups have convinced classroom teachers that liability insurance is necessary, then used those teachers to subsidize the cost of providing that insurance to administrators. Many of the various Texas school administrator groups also provide liability insurance to their members, but the coverage is a maximum of $1 million dollars, not the $6, $7 or $8 million dollars being touted by the teachers groups - although dues amounts are similar.
If administrators are the people with the greatest risk, why are their own membership groups providing less coverage than the teacher groups? Because $1 million is a reasonable amount of coverage. Even the National Education Association (NEA), TSTA's national affiliate, only provides $1 million in liability insurance to its members. TSTA had to purchase an excess policy solely for it's Texas members to keep up with the other Texas groups.
But the bottom line is this: anything over $1 million dollars is like going to the Pacific Ocean to swim instead of the Atlantic Ocean because the Pacific is bigger and has more water. It's true, but it makes absolutely no difference to your swimming experience. And if you don't plan on swimming anyway, you can go to the mountains. For classroom teachers, none of it really matters anyway.
Classroom teachers need legal protection to defend against being fired, against being reassigned, against being accused of misconduct, against unfair appraisals, against unreasonable work demands, and to assert their rights to duty free lunch, to planning periods uninterrupted by meetings, to a limit on paperwork, and to reasonable, clearly stated performance expectations. Classroom teachers need employment attorneys, not liability insurance.
Which brings us to choosing your teachers union. Pick the organization that will provide you the best individual representation for you when your employment rights are violated. The groups vary greatly in how they provide that service, and that's the service you need to pay attention to when you choose your group.