Disability advocates: Teacher Protection Act traumatizes students

Bill's author says teachers need to be protected
Disability advocates: Teacher Protection Act traumatizes students

When Caleb Adams was 9 years old, he was handcuffed and put in a police squad car after what his mother called a “challenging” day at school.

“With not being able to move my hands, to be honest, they’re just showing me that that’s OK to do to people,” Caleb, now 11, told News 3.

Caleb, who lives in Wisconsin Dells, is on the autism spectrum, and has brain damage and anxiety. His mother, Nicole Weigel, had to take him out of school and temporarily home-school him.

“I watched as this child was brought in handcuffs out to a squad car. As the adults talked about him like he was a thing and not a human being. As they talked through what had happened trying to find fault with this child, again,” Weigel said in a testimony during a committee hearing Wednesday.

Weigel was just one of more than a dozen people who came to the Capitol Thursday to testify during a public hearing for Assembly Bill 693, or the Teacher Protection Act.

The bill would create and modify certain rights and protections for schoolteachers. It would allow teachers to “use reasonable and necessary force under certain circumstances” and to remove a student from a classroom for two consecutive days.

The bill’s author, Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said measures need to be in place to protect teachers.

“Regardless of whether that student has a disability or not, there needs to be action taken to protect that teacher,” he said. “And they have to have the ability, if necessary, to be able to refer that to law enforcement, and then it’s up to law enforcement whether or not they want to act on it.”

A 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Education showed 25 percent of teachers in Wisconsin reported being attacked or threatened by a student between 2011 and 2012, the latest data available.

Under the bill, teachers could request that a school board schedule a suspension hearing if they’ve requested that a school administrator suspend a student and their request is denied.

Law enforcement agencies would also be required to report to a school administrator and teachers when one of their students is arrested in connection with a felony or violent misdemeanor.

As of Wednesday night, 16 lobbying organizations were registered against the bill. They include the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators, Madison Metropolitan School District and Disability Rights Wisconsin. No organizations were registered in support of the proposal.

Opponents of the bill also worry that it would negatively affect students of color.

“We know students of color right here in Wisconsin are suspended at a greater rate,” Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said during the public hearing. “Students who are suspended have a harder time achieving, and that then exacerbates the achievement gap that is a horrible plague on our state.”

Thiesfeldt said his bill is “colorblind,” and race should be kept out of the mix.

Taylor also suggested amending the bill so that children with disabilities were not included. As an alternative, she said, more money should be put into special education programs.

During the committee hearing, Thiesfeldt said he would be open to amending the bill so it could pass.