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Introduction

All teachers generally receive a whole bunch of handouts, including various directives and policies, during the initial Faculty Conference in September. Included among these are Chancellor’s Regulations A-420 and A-421. A-420 forbids “corporal punishment” and A-421 forbids “verbal abuse.” A-421 is actually an offshoot of A-420. Years ago, the prohibition against verbal abuse was contained within the prohibition against corporal punishment. There was no A-421, and A-420 attempted to deal with both matters. In fact, within A-420, there were words to the effect that verbal abuse constituted corporal punishment. Whichever DOE lawyers drafted and approved A-420 were in error because verbal abuse is not an example of corporal punishment.

Take a look at the Wikipedia articles on corporal punishment and verbal abuse for commonly accepted definitions and a list of references:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporal_punishment

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verbal_abuse

Wikipedia has a separate article on school corporal punishment:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_corporal_punishment

Here are the Merriam-Webster definitions of the phrases “corporal punishment” and “verbal abuse”:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/corporal%20punishment

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/verbal%20abuse

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology issued the following policy statement in June 1988 (updated September 2014) on the topic of “Corporal Punishment in Schools”:

https://www.aacap.org/aacap/Policy_Statements/1988/Corporal_Punishment_in_Schools.aspx

The US Supreme Court weighed in on the corporal punishment policy of Dade County, Florida’s public schools in 1977 in Ingraham v. Wright (430 U.S. 651).

By a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court upheld the decision of the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, which found school corporal punishment in Dade County, FL did not violate the Eighth Amendment or procedural due process:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingraham_v._Wright

https://www.oyez.org/cases/1976/75-6527

https://www.leagle.com/decision/19771081430us65111050

Here is the decision of the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit:

https://www.leagle.com/decision/1974746498f2d2481700

What does Chancellor’s Regulation A-420 say about corporal punishment?

First of all, let’s show you Chancellor’s Regulation A-420. All UFT members should be familiar with this.

What does Chancellor’s Regulation A-421 say about verbal abuse?

First of all, let’s show you Chancellor’s Regulation A-421. All UFT members should be familiar with this.

How can these regulations be used against a UFT member?

Corporal Punishment: A-420.  

According to Roman Numeral II, “Definitions,” on page 3 of 13 (in the PDF viewer) of Chancellor’s Regulation A-420:

Corporal punishment is defined as any act of physical force upon a pupil for the purpose of punishing that pupil.

Corporal punishment does not include the use of reasonable physical force for any of the following purposes:

• To protect oneself from physical injury;

• To protect another pupil or teacher or any other person from physical injury (e.g., breaking up a physical altercation without using excessive force);

• To protect the property of the school or of others; or

• To restrain or remove a pupil whose behavior is interfering with the orderly exercise and performance of school district functions, powers, or duties if the pupil refuses to comply with a request to refrain from further disruptive acts, and alternative procedures and methods that do not involve the use of physical force cannot reasonably be employed to achieve the purposes set forth above.

 

The language contains too much that is subject to interpretation, including: reasonable physical force, excessive force, orderly exercise and performance, disruptive acts, alternative procedures and methods, and reasonably be employed.

However, we can’t find fault with DOE for this type of language because they lifted it from the Rules of the Board of Regents.

According to Roman Numeral VII, “Personnel Actions,” on page 7 of 13 (in the PDF viewer) of Chancellor’s Regulation A-420:

Nothing in this Regulation prevents a principal from counseling or disciplining an employee for inappropriate conduct and/or unprofessional behavior that is not otherwise in violation of this Regulation.

Missing in this catchall sentence are specific examples of “inappropriate conduct” and “unprofessional behavior.” Therefore, it’s up to the principal to decide.

A hostile or vindictive principal can easily report you to the Office of Special Investigations and claim that by tapping a student on the shoulder, you used “excessive,” rather than “reasonable,” force or that such action was both “inappropriate” and “unprofessional.”

The decision of the First Appellate Division in Blood v. Board of Education (121 A.D.2d 128) is interesting.

Among other things, the Court stated:

“Surely, it is not so unusual an occurrence that a teacher loses her temper with her class. Indeed, displays of anger in the classroom cannot be regarded as other than natural and sometimes necessary incidents of a teacher’s work. Nor can it be reasonably expected that a teacher’s anger will always be well gauged to the occasion and unaccompanied by impulsive behavior. Such behavior, although undesirable, is a generally foreseeable eventuality of teaching and, as such, must be deemed within the scope of a teacher’s employment…”

The decision of the Court of Appeals in Sagal-Cotler v. Board of Education (20 N.Y.3d 671) is also interesting.

Among other things, the Court stated:

“We hold that employees of the New York City Department of Education who are sued for using corporal punishment are entitled to a defense provided by the City, even though the employees’ conduct violated a state regulation.”

 

 

Verbal Abuse: A-421.

According to Roman Numeral II, “Definitions,” on pages 3 and 4 of 16 (in the PDF viewer) of Chancellor’s Regulation A-421:

Verbal abuse is defined as language (written or oral) about or directed toward students, that:

1. Belittles, embarrasses or subjects students to ridicule; or

2. Has or would have the effect of unreasonably and substantially interfering with a student’s educational performance or ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program, school-sponsored activity or any other aspect of a student’s education; or

3. Has or would have the effect of unreasonably and substantially interfering with a student’s mental, emotional, or physical well-being; or

4. Reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause a student to fear for his/her physical safety; or

5. Reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause physical injury or emotional harm to a student.

 

The language contains too much that is subject to interpretation, including: belittles, embarrasses, ridicule, unreasonably, substantially, mental well-being, emotional well-being, physical well-being, reasonably causes, reasonably expected to cause, and emotional harm.

According to Roman Numeral VII, “Personnel Actions,” on page 9 of 16 (in the PDF viewer) of Chancellor’s Regulation A-421:

Nothing in this Regulation prevents a principal from counseling or disciplining an employee for inappropriate conduct and/or unprofessional behavior that is not otherwise in violation of this Regulation. 

Once again, missing in this catchall sentence are specific examples of “inappropriate conduct” and “unprofessional behavior.” Therefore, it’s up to the principal to decide.

A hostile or vindictive principal can easily report you to the Office of Special Investigations and claim that by telling a student in front of the class, “Wrong answer!” or “Zero!” that such action was both “inappropriate” and “unprofessional.”

So, be careful what you say to students because even a perfectly innocent remark can be construed as verbal abuse if your principal is that type of person.

The NYC Administration for Children’s Services had published a booklet Parents’ Guide to New York State Child Abuse and Neglect Laws.

Page 9 of 18 (in the PDF viewer) defines “verbal abuse” as “excessive yelling, belittling, and teasing.”

The following is an excerpt from the page:

My son was having problems in school. His teachers called a conference with both of us. During the conference, I told my son that he was stupid and incompetent. I don’t think my remarks were emotionally abusive. Am I wrong?

Belittling or insulting a child can impair his or her emotional well-being and leave the child feeling helpless and worthless. This situation could therefore be considered verbal abuse.”

The following 5/13/08 article is from the old blog Chaz’s School Daze. It is based on the text of Chancellor’s Regulations A-420 and A-421 at the time:

 

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