Ga. High Court Strikes Verbal-Abuse-of-Educators Law; Backs School Gun Limits

By Mark Walsh — November 01, 2016 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It was a busy day Monday for the Georgia Supreme Court and school issues.

In one decision, the state’s highest court unanimously struck down a state statute that criminalized “upbraiding, insulting, or abusing” a public school teacher, administrator, or bus driver in the presence of a student while on a school bus or school premises. The measure was overly broad in violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, the court said.

In another Oct. 31 ruling, the court held that a Georgia law that prohibits firearms on school property takes precedence over one passed around the same time that says a person licensed to carry firearms may carry them into school safety zones.

In the speech case, West v. The State, Michael Antonio West was charged under the “upbraiding” statute after he reportedly boarded a school bus in 2015 and verbally abused the driver over the alleged bullying of his child by other students.

The Georgia Supreme Court agreed to take up the case after West lost a pretrial motion to strike down the law.

Among the aspects of the law that the court found troubling was that “the statute does not proscribe all speech that might be boisterous or disruptive,” the opinion says.

Instead, the law “prohibits only that speech directed at public school officials which may be perceived as negative or unfavorable,” the court said. “The practical effect of the plain language of [the statute] is that any person—may it be a parent, school system employee, or concerned citizen while on school premises or a school bus—who dares to speak critically to school officials at any time in the presence of minors must leave the premises when so ordered by a school official or face arrest and prosecution for a misdemeanor.”

“We agree with West that this statute, though perhaps well intentioned, neither regulates unprotected speech nor is appropriately tailored to meet its intended objective and is therefore overbroad,” the court concluded.

Gun Law

In Inc. v. Code Revision Commission, a gun rights group sought to compel a state panel to reinstate a statute that authorized licensed gun owners onto school property.

That measure was signed in to law by Gov. Nathan Deal on April 22, 2014. The next day, Deal signed HB 60, a bill that made it unlawful for any person to have a firearm “within a school safety zone” unless that person was dropping off or picking up a student.

The Code Revision Commission determined that the two measures were in conflict, and it gave effect to the school weapons prohibition because it became law later.

The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the two laws “are in irreconcilable conflict.”

“These provisions are contradictory in that they address the same circumstances, but one expressly authorizes the carrying of a firearm and the other expressly criminalizes such conduct, albeit with a limited exception,” the court said. “Accordingly, the two statutes cannot stand together and the provisions of [the first measure] related to the carrying of firearms in a school safety zone did not survive the subsequent enactment of HB 60.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP