Last Updated on August 24, 2023 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
Okay- everyone knows that fighting at school can get a student in trouble, but what if a teacher is hit during the process? What if it is unintentional? Or, worse, what if it isn’t?
School suspension or expulsion can quickly be imposed if school personnel are hit or harmed by a student.
What Is An Assault and Battery?
What is an assault and battery is defined in California Penal Code sections 240 and 242.
An assault is defined as: …an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another. [California Penal Code section 240]
Battery is defined as: … any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another. [California Penal Code 242]
Expulsion Recommendation Mandated For Assault or Battery of a School Employee
Under California Education Code section 48915(a), students who assault or batter a school employee, such as a teacher, principal, administrator, or even a lunch lady, must be recommended for expulsion.
Here is what the law says:
…the principal or the superintendent of schools shall recommend the expulsion of a pupil for any of the following acts committed at school or at a school activity off school grounds…
(E) Assault or battery… upon any school employee.
Hurting a teacher, principal, or other school staff member carries a mandatory recommendation for expulsion.
When is the “Mandatory” Recommendation, Not Mandatory?
There is one situation where an assault on a school employee does not trigger an expulsion recommendation- when a school administrator decides it is inappropriate or an alternative may work.
Education Code section 48915(a) states:
…the principal or the superintendent of schools shall recommend the expulsion of a pupil for any of the following acts committed at school or at a school activity off school grounds… unless the principal or superintendent determines that expulsion should not be recommended under the circumstances or that an alternative means of correction would address the conduct…
So, if a principal or superintendent decides that expulsion just isn’t appropriate and an alternative student punishment will work instead, they can ignore the state mandate requiring an expulsion recommendation.
This means that schools theoretically have leeway to NOT expel a student who assaulted a teacher or other school staff member, if they want. As with anything, it all depends on the facts.
Unintentional Assault and Battery on School Staff
If a student is doing something at school and accidentally harms a school employee, the discretion to expel or not should kick in. School staff may look at the student’s intention in a situation, and the student’s true blame.
For example, if a student is rushing to class and unintentionally pushes a staff member, hopefully a school will factor in that it was an accident and not pursue punishment.
What if a student drops their books and they land on a school secretary’s foot and hurt her? Will schools expel for this? Hopefully not.
Unfortunately there are no guarantees and it also may depend on the level of harm caused. Did the teacher get a broken jaw or no significant injury at all? Facts will matter.
Intentional Assault and Battery on School Employee
More likely to lead to an expulsion recommendation are intentional harms to school staff. For example, when a student hits a teacher on purpose.
Some real life school assault and batteries in the news include a:
- students forcing a teacher to the ground and pummeling him, for reportedly trying to enforce safety rules.
In these cases, it is unlikely a school would NOT refer a student for expulsion, due to their apparently intentional harms to school staff.
Incidental Assault of Employee, Aka Collateral Damage, May Still Mean Expulsion
One case where a student may not “intentionally” hurt a school employee, but could still be in trouble, is where a teacher is hurt during a student’s other wrongful acts. This may happen during school fights, students being caught doing wrong and bolting, or even during pranks gone wrong.
These collateral damage-type situations can end with school staff hurt, even if unintentionally. However, they are distinct from the totally unintentional act, for example where a student accidentally dropped their heavy books. In these cases, the student intended to break a rule and a teacher just got caught in the middle.
For example, a student may be involved in “mutual combat” (fighting) with another student, and a teacher moves in to break the fight up. During the fight, the teacher may be violently shoved by the student or hit in the face in the heat of the moment. The student may or may not have known at the time that they hit a teacher or may have felt justified.
Because the student was involved in an act against the rules and harmed a teacher in the process, they may be in trouble not only for the underlying offense, but also a teacher assault.
The Best Thing: Avoid Rule Breaches
The best advice for students is simply to follow school rules. Don’t get into a fight at school, let alone one where a teacher or school staff member may be harmed.
Don’t set up situations where anyone could be hurt or damage could occur.
Try to follow the rules, so a suspension or expulsion recommendation never crosses anyone’s minds.
Attorney for students Michelle Ball defends students facing expulsions or other school discipline problems. As a lawyer in the Sacramento area, licensed in California, she can reach across the state, to Rocklin, Newcastle, Woodland, Los Angeles, Redwood City, and many more locations.