Florida teachers have a new tool for cracking down on dangerous, disruptive students.
Guidelines unanimously approved by Gov. Lawton Chiles and his Cabinet sitting as the state board of education say school personnel can use physical force to control disruptive students.
The guidelines define reasonable force as "appropriate professional conduct, including physical force as necessary, to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment."
Although the guidelines are new to Florida, several states have in place or are developing policies related to classroom management and school safety, according to Veronica White, a policy analyst at the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures. "Teachers are getting more power to control disruptive students," she said.
The Florida provisions say teachers may use "reasonable force" to control their classrooms when students' behavior threatens them or endangers other students.
The Cabinet's action follows the 1996 Teacher Authority Law, which allows Florida teachers to establish classroom-conduct codes and have students who don't comply or who are otherwise violent or disruptive removed from their classrooms.
Education Commissioner Frank Brogan, who as an assistant principal once wrestled a loaded .357 Magnum from a troubled 7th grader, championed both the law and the new guidelines, saying teachers and students deserve safe classrooms.
The guidelines, along with a videotape illustrating them, will be distributed to school districts this year. Although no state money was allocated for training school employees on the use of reasonable force, Commissioner Brogan said he will ask lawmakers for teacher training money in his budget proposal for the 1998-99 school year.
Gary Landry, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association-United, one of the two main teachers' unions in the state, said the new law and guidelines were imperative, but he stressed that teachers need to be trained in the use of force.The law and guidelines, he said, will help restore teachers' authority.
--KERRY A. WHITE