The Louisiana Court of Appeals’ 1979 ruling in Thompson v. Iberville Parish School Board provides insight into what factors should be considered when asking if a teacher has inappropriately punished a student. This decision reversed a previous ruling in favor of an Iberville Parish elementary school student and found in favor of the school and teacher.
12 year old Bryan Wilson was in a music class at St. Gabriel Elementary school when his teacher extended his leg and pushed him with his foot in the right buttock. The teacher claimed that it was the easiest way to get the unruly student’s attention and that he had been reprimanded previously to turn around and pay attention to no avail. Bryan on the other hand, claimed the kick was extremely hard, causing him to cry out in pain and even miss several days of school. The trial court found in Bryan’s favor and awarded his mother $500 on his behalf for pain and embarrassment suffered. They found that although corporal punishment was acceptable under Louisiana law (and teachers were provided with limited liability from civil suit), the choice of action went beyond what was considered reasonable. To the trial court, the use of a foot for corporal punishment was unreasonable no matter how much force was involved.
The Court of Appeals disagreed, however, and reversed the judgment, pointing to the lack of evidence of any serious injury. Bryan was examined by the school principal and a doctor that same day and there was no visible evidence of injury, nor did any abnormality appear on an x-ray. In addition, evidence had been presented at trial that Bryan was a normal, healthy child who did have a tendency to act up at school. The Court of Appeals found that although there were few situations where a kick, no matter how light, would be reasonable, this was one and that the teacher merely acted to get Bryan’s attention, not inflict pain.
While the law in Louisiana regarding corporal punishment is not identical today, it has not changed that much and corporal punishment in some forms still legal.
Under Louisiana law, teachers have the authority to hold students accountable for conduct on the playground, bus or during school recess that is determined to be out-of-line. The use of corporal punishment shall be at the discretion of the school board. When implementing and controlling corporal punishment, a school district will adopt any rules or regulations it deems necessary.
While the statute gives parishes and school boards discretion in the choice of whether to use corporal punishment, it does not specifically define which types of punishment is appropriate. As such, in asking the question of whether a teacher’s actions were reasonable or excessive, the factors considered by the Court in Thompson are still relevant today. Specifically:
What was the age and physical condition of the student?
How serious was the student’s misconduct?
What was the nature and severity of the corporal punishment?
What was the teacher’s motive in inflicting the punishment?
Did the student have past behavior problems?
Were other less severe means of discipline available?
The use of corporeal punishment will continue to be a highly controversial topic in today’s modern world. It’s important that you consult with a lawyer to will help evaluate the facts of your case against these standards when assessing a potential lawsuit against a school for abuse.