Teacher charged with a crime for slapping disabled student

This case involves the question of what degree of physical force a teacher can exercise over a disabled child with cerebral palsy. A 50-year-old female elementary school teacher in Baton Rouge was arrested and charged with a crime under Louisiana law involving battery with respect to the infirm. This happened after a video taken with a cellphone surfaced that depicted her slapping the wheelchair-bound child. Her criminal defense attorney claims that the act is being taken out of context and that his client did nothing wrong.

Further misunderstanding and bad feelings apparently resulted from email interchanges between the teacher and the mother. The teacher attempted to apologize but also defended the basic practical ethics of her actions. The mother in response has criticized the teacher harshly and moved her child into private home-school tutoring. She added that she previously thought that the accused had been doing a good job and pointed out the teacher's caring habit of writing each day's activities with her child in a journal for the mother.

The child was apparently chewing on her bib and chair straps, and the accused considered that a conduct problem. According to the teacher's attorney that was a correct response in a long-term relationship where the teacher had to use physical means to get a reaction and make a point. The mother responds that the child should have been allowed to chew on or bite her bib and straps. She discredited the teacher's lack of patience.

There are two opposed points of view at work here. The school district policy is that "firm kindness" is allowed as a method of discipline. This appears to be code for the authority to use mild physical contact. Generally, the law permits a certain degree of reasonable corporal punishment by the teacher because the teacher stands as a substitute to the parent during school hours. The parent's view is different.

Whether the degree of force used in this situation was permissible in Louisiana or whether it was justifiable for the teacher to be charged with a crime is yet to be determined. The school district will make a thorough investigation and take appropriate action at that time, according to the superintendent. At the same time, the criminality of the actions will be tested in the criminal prosecution.

Source: The Times-Picayune, Lawyer: Teacher arrested for battery charges of infirm student did 'nothing wrong', Emily Lane, Nov. 7, 2013

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