Police would have to notify school administrators whenever they arrest a student for a violent crime and teachers could end their contracts without penalty if students attack them under a Republican bill that would relax juvenile criminal record confidentiality.
The bill would also allow teachers to remove a student from a classroom for two days.
Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, a former teacher, hasn’t formally introduced the bill yet, saying he’s still revising it.
He said he’s been thinking about the measure because he keeps hearing how guidelines the Obama administration issued in 2014 urging schools to take a gentler approach toward disciplining minorities has led to teachers getting beat up and frustrated with administrators who won’t punish students.
He pointed to the story of Green Bay middle school teacher Kerstin Westcott, who resigned this summer after claiming students abused her and other teachers and that she feared for her safety.
“I just started piecing it all together and (decided) to do something to help these teachers,” said Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac.
All Wisconsin juvenile criminal records are automatically sealed. Under the bill, a police department that takes a student into custody on suspicion of a violent crime would have to notify the student’s school administrator before the next school day begins.
The school board or private school governing body must notify teachers who work directly with the student of the incident as soon as practical, preferably before the student attends their classes. Teachers could ask their school boards to suspend students if their administrators refuse to do it.
Conversely, principals or other school administrators would have to notify police within 24 hours of learning a student physically assaulted or committed a violent crime against somebody at school or at a school-sponsored activity if requested by a witness or adult victim such as a teacher. The bill also would allow teachers who have been attacked to terminate their contracts or take leave without being penalized.
Thiesfeldt said he realizes the bill opens up juvenile criminal records to administrators and teachers but they deserve to know that information and they wouldn’t be able to share it.
“It certainly impacts the day of everybody involved,” he said. “I don’t see any negative with people knowing that information. It’s good for the teacher, good for the student and good for the rest of the classroom.”
The bill also calls for the state Department of Public Instruction to post online a list of teachers’ rights, including their right to remove a student from the classroom for up to two days and the right to use reasonable force to defend themselves and their students.
The list would include several new rights, including the right to receive information about a pupil taken into custody for a violent crime.
Wenona Wolf, a spokeswoman for Kids Forward, a group that advocates for opportunities for children, said no one in her organization had seen the bill and declined comment. DPI spokesman Tom McCarthy didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards said on its website that its officials had been engaged in discussions with Thiesfeldt about the group’s concerns with the bill.
“While safety and safe learning environments are critical to student learning, and student and school success, and while this proposal appears well-intended, the WASB, nevertheless, has a number of strong concerns about this proposal, including the lack of safeguards in the way teachers are empowered to take actions against students that may or may not conform to school board policies or the normal chain of command in school settings or could be abused by certain teachers,” the group said.
In particular, WASB said it doesn’t approve of teachers being able to suspend students from classes without the approval of principals, superintendents or school board policies.
State Journal staff contributed to this report.