Bad Bill: Don’t Mess with Texas Teachers

Dan Flynn
Dan Flynn

The 84th Texas Legislature has been in session more than three weeks and the Observer has yet to bestow our most dubious legislative accolade: the Bad Bill. We shall dally no more.

We present to you House Bill 868, by Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Canton).

Promisingly dubbed the Teacher’s Protection Act, the bill authorizes teachers to use “force or deadly force” to defend themselves, students, or school property. Flynn’s bill expands the Castle Doctrine—the 2007 law that has led to a rash of justifiable homicides in Texas—to include teachers.

As a former public school teacher, I understand the frustration of catching a student tagging a bathroom wall or having to break up a fight. But suggesting that teachers use deadly force underestimates the potential for hallway misfire. French teachers aren’t trained to use lethal force. Think back to your middle school P.E. teacher. Do you want him locked and loaded?

The bill is attracting ridicule from media outlets across the nation. The New Republic calls it “especially ill-considered, and especially cruel.” Think Progress wrote that the bill could have disastrous consequences for students of color and called it a “fatal can of worms.”

Flynn is disappointed with the reaction. He complained to the Observer that the bill is “being styled that we’re going to give them guns and they are going to shoot people. It’s unfair.”

“I just want teachers to feel like they can protect themselves,” Flynn said. “There’s a lot of fear on the part of some teachers of students attacking them, and if they try to protect themselves then they become the person that is the culprit.”

As evidence, Flynn mentioned a video of a 16-year-old student body-slamming his teacher in New Jersey.

“You can tell the teacher is holding his hands up, not wanting to do anything to get himself fired,” Flynn said.  “And the student is bigger than the teacher.”

Others are not so thrilled about a bill encouraging teachers to protect themselves with “force or deadly force.” Louis Malfaro, president of the Texas Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), says of the bill that there is no desire among educators for “another dumb idea like this.”

If legislators want to make schools safer, Malfaro said, they should provide funding for smaller class sizes so teachers can give students more attention, more school counselors and properly trained security personnel.

“They focus on things like this [arming teachers] because they don’t want to give schools the funding that is needed to address the underlying issues that may cause a child to act out,” Malfaro said.

Ironically, despite all the controversy surrounding the bill, it’s largely redundant.

“Texas already has expansive laws in place allowing the use of deadly force to protect people and property,” said Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

“The bill just restates criminal law, I don’t know why teachers would be different from any other citizen,” he added.

The Castle Doctrine—sometimes called “Stand Your Ground” laws—empowers Texans to use deadly force to protect themselves and their property and has been invoked in several infamous cases.

In 2010 a Houston taco truck owner shot and killed a 24-year-old man who stole a tip jar, and last year a San Antonio man shot and killed a prostitute who took his money and refused to have sex with him. Neither man was convicted of a crime.

Flynn admitted the law may be redundant, but he said that’s of no importance.

“If it has to be redundant for teachers to feel safer, then I’m OK with that,” Flynn said.

Check out our very bad archive of Bad Bills here.

John Savage is a writer based in Austin.

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Published at 1:17 pm CST
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