Doug Turner's June 4 column commented on my vote on an amendment to a recently passed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. I would like to set the record straight.
Turner said that I "voted against an amendment to the education bill intended to give teachers and administrators of public schools more clout in dealing with hoodlums in the classrooms."
He also referred to the amendment as a "teacher protection bill" and said it would "give teachers and officials protection against frivolous lawsuits." His assertions are most misleading.
Of course, I want to deal with "hoodlums" in the classroom, and favor strong classroom discipline. And I want to protect teachers from frivolous lawsuits. But the underlying bill, which I voted for, already included provisions to exempt teachers and administrators from federal liability claims for actions taken to maintain discipline, which I always supported.
The amendment I opposed, and which the National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher's Association also opposed -- something not mentioned by Turner -- made significant changes.
First, it extended that exemption well beyond teachers and administrators to school boards and local education agencies as legal entities.
Second, despite the fact that education issues have traditionally been the primary purview of the states, the amendment used the long arm of federal law to avoid all existing state laws that do not provide the same liability exemption provided by the amendment.
Third, it protected against not only "frivolous" lawsuits, but, in the words of the NEA, it would "remove all accountability for disciplinary actions that result in harm to the health or welfare of students (and) eliminate all responsibility to parents when a child is injured by disciplinary actions."
Turner also misleadingly asserted that the Senate approved "the teacher protection bill" by a vote of 98-1. But no mention was made of the fact that the Senate amendment was decidedly narrower than the House amendment, especially in that it did not extend the teacher liability exemption to school boards and local education agencies. That significant difference is, I believe, a principal reason the amendment received far greater support in the Senate.
Enabling teachers to maintain discipline in the classroom without fear of frivolous civil litigation is something I always have, and do, support.
REP. JOHN J. LAFALCE
Town of Tonawanda