In a recent article, a local newspaper reported that a teacher student fight occurred at the La Marque High School. The fight occurred because a teacher had confiscated a students book bag and the student demanded the return of the book bag. With out the possession of the students bag, the teacher student fight at the La Marque High School would not have occurred.

The article stated that assaulting a public servant has a considerable penalty for the perpetrator. According to Texas Penal Code §12.32 assaulting a public servant results in the following:

The challenge for the La Marque School District and the teacher is that the teacher fueled the teacher student fight by possessing the students book bag. The students book bag is the students personal property. Once the student demanded the book bag to be returned it could be deemed as a theft.

In Texas a person commits theft if the person “unlawfully appropriates property with intent to deprive the owner of property.” (Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 31.03.) This means that you commit theft in the state of Texas when you take something that doesn’t belong to you, without consent or any other legal justification for doing so, and at the time of the offense you have no intention of giving the property back to its rightful owner.

If we place a $50 value on the book bag it is considered a class B misdemeanor. Theft is a class B misdemeanor in Texas if the value of the property or services stolen is $50 or more but less than $500, or if the property stolen is a driver’s license or other identification card. (§ 31.03(e)(2).) The punishment for a class B misdemeanor in Texas is a sentence of confinement in jail for a term of not more than 180 days a fine of not more than $2,000, or both. (§ 12.22.).

The other challenge for the La Marque School District incident which lead to teacher student fight is the Clean Hands Doctrine. The Clean Hands Doctrine is an equitable defense in which the defendant argues that the plaintiff is not entitled to obtain an equitable remedy because the plaintiff is acting unethically or has acted in bad faith with respect to the subject of the complaint—that is, with “unclean hands”. The defendant has the burden of proof to show the plaintiff is not acting in good faith. The doctrine is often stated as “those seeking equity must do equity” or “equity must come with clean hands”. A defendant’s unclean hands can also be claimed and proven by the plaintiff to claim other equitable remedies and to prevent that defendant from asserting equitable affirmative defenses. In other words, ‘unclean hands’ can be used offensively by the plaintiff as well as defensively by the defendant.

These are the facts that will surface in a court of law:

  • The teacher violated school protocol by confiscating the student’s book bag without probable cause
  • The teacher confiscated the student’s book bag
  • The teacher refused to return the student’s personal property

The La Marque teacher could have avoided the teacher student fight by adhering to one of the following steps:

  • When students come to class with a book bag tell them that they are not allowed in the class. If they refuse to leave, get your cell phone out and call the front office. Request that an administrator come to your class to remove a student.
  • If the student allows you to keep the book bag safe for them during class and then demands their book bag, return the book bag. Then require that the student leave the class. If the student does not leave, then call the front office. Request that an administrator come to your class to remove a student.

Teachers can avoid many complications that result in teacher student fights by remaining consistent with the enforcement of disciplinary and school rules.

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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
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