In the 2014 movie "Whiplash," a jazz band instructor uses over-the-top, abusive methods in an attempt to provoke his students to achieve greatness. He subjects his protégé drummer to public humiliation and even throws chairs at the student. (The instructor is eventually fired for using such tactics.)

Obviously TCTA members would never use such techniques! But a bill passed in the 2019 session raises questions, not yet answered, about what actions might run afoul of a new state law that prohibits “aversive techniques.”

SB 712, and the nearly identical HB 3630, are aimed at eliminating methods of addressing student behavior that would be physically or emotionally harmful to the student. Some aspects address unusual and obviously problematic methods. The bills prohibit a technique that, for example, “impairs the student’s breathing” or “is likely to cause pain through the use of electric shock.”

Some provisions are less clear. A teacher cannot employ a method that “denies adequate sleep, air, food, water, shelter, bedding, physical comfort, supervision, or access to a restroom facility.” What if a teacher sends a misbehaving student out in the hallway? Does this deny supervision? Does the answer change if there is a hall monitor, or if the classroom door is left open so the teacher can see the student?

The bill prohibits a technique that “ridicules or demeans the student in a manner that adversely affects or endangers the learning or mental health of the student or constitutes verbal abuse.” What if the theater teacher calls out a student for not learning her lines? If the student is particularly sensitive and gets her feelings hurt, was this demeaning, or verbal abuse?

Unfortunately, in the absence of further guidance or rulings on litigation, these remain gray areas. But teachers should be very aware of this new law and carefully consider their disciplinary methods.

As always, if you are a TCTA member, please call the TCTA legal department at 888-879-8282 if you have any questions about this topic.