2007 Regular Session
By: Representative Lott
AN ACT TO CREATE THE "QUALITY EDUCATION AND TEACHER AND PRINCIPAL PROTECTION ACT"; TO PROVIDE LIMITED IMMUNITY FOR SCHOOL EMPLOYEES TAKING CERTAIN DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS; TO PROVIDE IMMUNITY FOR SCHOOL EMPLOYEES MAKING REPORTS CONSISTENT WITH FEDERAL LAW REGARDING THE USE OF CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES OR FIREARMS BY STUDENTS; TO PROHIBIT THE IMPOSITION OF PUNITIVE OR EXEMPLARY DAMAGES AGAINST EDUCATIONAL ENTITIES AND EMPLOYEES ACTING WITHIN THE COURSE AND SCOPE OF EMPLOYMENT; TO PROVIDE A PENALTY FOR MAKING FALSE ACCUSATIONS OF CRIMINAL ACTIVITY AGAINST SCHOOL EMPLOYEES; TO LIMIT THE FEES AN ATTORNEY MAY CHARGE IN DEFENDING AN EDUCATIONAL ENTITY THAT HAS A CIVIL JUDGMENT RENDERED AGAINST IT; TO BRING FORWARD SECTION 37-11-57, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, WHICH PROVIDES IMMUNITY TO TEACHERS, ASSISTANT TEACHERS, PRINCIPALS AND ASSISTANT PRINCIPALS FOR TAKING REASONABLE ACTION TO MAINTAIN STUDENT DISCIPLINE; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. This act may be known as the "Quality Education and Teacher and Principal Protection Act."
SECTION 2. The Legislature finds that: ensuring the quality of primary and secondary public education is a compelling state interest; the educational environment of students is often not conducive to learning; violence is sometimes a threat, while other times, educators may lack the authority to maintain safety and discipline in the public schools; the filing of meritless lawsuits against school districts, teachers and administrators, and other school employees interferes with attempts to ensure the quality of public education, particularly where such lawsuits arise out of the good-faith efforts of educators to maintain classroom discipline or address threats to student safety; and meritless litigation also diverts financial and personnel resources to litigation defense activities and reduces the availability of such resources for educational opportunities for students. The Legislature further finds that legislation to deter meritless lawsuits and sanction deliberately false reports against educators is a rational and appropriate method to address this compelling public interest.
SECTION 3. As used in this act:
(a) "Educational entity" means the State Board of Education or a local school board.
(b) "Employee" means any individual elected or appointed to an educational entity and any individual who is an employee of an educational entity or who provides student-related services to that educational entity on a contractual basis. The term "employee" also means an authorized volunteer who provides student-related services to the educational entity.
SECTION 4. (1) An educational entity or its employees is not subject to liability for an employee taking any action regarding the supervision, grading, suspension, expulsion or discipline of students while the students are on the property of the educational entity or are under the supervision of the educational entity or its employees. However, this immunity does not apply if the employee's action violates a statute, rule, regulation or clearly articulated policy of the state or educational entity. The burden of proof of a violation rests with the plaintiff and must be established by clear and convincing evidence to the court as part of a summary proceeding.
(2) An educational entity and its employees are not subject to liability for an employee making a report consistent with federal law to the appropriate law enforcement authorities or officials of an educational entity if the individual making the report has reasonable grounds to suspect that a student is:
(a) Under the influence of alcoholic beverages or a controlled substance not lawfully prescribed to that individual;
(b) In possession of a firearm, alcoholic beverages or a controlled substance not lawfully prescribed to that individual; or
(c) Involved in the illegal solicitation, sale or distribution of firearms, alcoholic beverages or a controlled substance not lawfully prescribed to that individual.
SECTION 5. (1) An educational entity is not liable for punitive or exemplary damages. An employee is not liable for punitive or exemplary damages for acts or omissions within the course and scope of employment.
(2) For the purposes of this act, an employee who acts with specific intent to cause harm may not be considered as acting within the course and scope of employment.
SECTION 6. (1) Except as otherwise provided in this act, any person eighteen (18) years of age or older who acts with specific intent in making a false accusation of criminal activity against an employee of an educational entity to law enforcement authorities, school district officials or personnel, or both, shall be fined up to Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000.00).
(2) Except as otherwise provided in this act, any public school student between the ages of seven (7) and seventeen (17) who acts with specific intent in making a false accusation of criminal activity against an employee of an educational entity to law enforcement authorities, school district officials or personnel, or both, at the discretion of the court and in accordance with the provisions of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 USCS Section 1400 et seq., may be subject to any of the following:
(b) Suspension for a period of time to be determined by the court;
(c) Community service of a type and for a period of time to be determined by the court;
(d) Any other sanction as the court, in its discretion, may deem appropriate.
(3) This section does not apply to statements regarding individuals elected or appointed to a school board.
(4) This section is in addition to and does not limit the civil or criminal liability of those persons who make false statements alleging criminal activity by others.
SECTION 7. (1) In any civil action or proceeding against an educational entity or its employee in which the educational entity or its employee prevails, the court shall award costs and reasonable attorney's fees to the prevailing defendant or defendants. The court, in its discretion, may determine whether such fees and costs are to be borne by the plaintiff's attorney, the plaintiff, or both.
(2) Expert witness fees may be included as part of the costs awarded under this section.
SECTION 8. (1) An attorney may not charge, demand, receive or collect for services rendered fees in excess of twenty-five percent (25%) of any civil judgment rendered against an educational entity or its employee or of any settlement made.
(2) Any interested person may file a civil action or petition the appropriate court to rescind any provision of the attorney fee contract inconsistent with this act and to compel the disgorgement of any fees paid in excess of the amounts allowed under this section. In addition, a court with jurisdiction over the matter shall impose a fine against the attorney that is equal to or less than the amount of money sought by the attorney in excess of the amount permitted by this act, but in any event not less than Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000.00).
SECTION 9. Unless otherwise provided by statute, the existence of any policy of insurance indemnifying an educational entity against liability for damages is not a waiver of any defense otherwise available to the educational entity or its employees in the defense of the claim.
SECTION 10. This act shall be supplemental to the Mississippi Tort Claims Act.
SECTION 11. This act shall not infringe on any right provided under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 USCS Section 1400 et seq.
SECTION 12. Section 37-11-57, Mississippi Code of 1972, is brought forward as follows:
37-11-57. (1) Except in the case of excessive force or cruel and unusual punishment, a teacher, assistant teacher, principal, or an assistant principal acting within the course and scope of his employment shall not be liable for any action carried out in conformity with state or federal law or rules or regulations of the State Board of Education or the local school board regarding the control, discipline, suspension and expulsion of students. The local school board shall provide any necessary legal defense to a teacher, assistant teacher, principal, or assistant principal acting within the course and scope of his employment in any action which may be filed against such school personnel. A school district shall be entitled to reimbursement for legal fees and expenses from its employee if a court finds that the act of the employee was outside the course and scope of his employment, or that the employee was acting with criminal intent. Any action by a school district against its employee and any action by the employee against the school district for necessary legal fees and expenses shall be tried to the court in the same suit brought against the school employee.
(2) Corporal punishment administered in a reasonable manner, or any reasonable action to maintain control and discipline of students taken by a teacher, assistant teacher, principal or assistant principal acting within the scope of his employment or function and in accordance with any state or federal laws or rules or regulations of the State Board of Education or the local school board does not constitute negligence or child abuse. No teacher, assistant teacher, principal or assistant principal so acting shall be held liable in a suit for civil damages alleged to have been suffered by a student as a result of the administration of corporal punishment, or the taking of action to maintain control and discipline of a student, unless the court determines that the teacher, assistant teacher, principal or assistant principal acted in bad faith or with malicious purpose or in a manner exhibiting a wanton and willful disregard of human rights or safety. For the purposes of this subsection, "corporal punishment" means the reasonable use of physical force or physical contact by a teacher, assistant teacher, principal or assistant principal, as may be necessary to maintain discipline, to enforce a school rule, for self-protection or for the protection of other students from disruptive students.
SECTION 13. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2007.