Governor Bush sidles up to teachers who beat pupils with his proposed "Teacher Protection Act," but declines to talk about the details.
- Tom Johnson's letter to Governor Bush, 2/9/00
- Governor Bush's response to Tom Johnson, 5/25/00
- Tom Johnson's response to Governor Bush, 6/27/00
P.O. Box 1902
Austin, TX 78767
February 9, 2000
Dear Gov. Bush:
Outlining your educational platform in New Hampshire last November, you advocated a federal "Teacher Protection Act" which would shield teachers and school officials from discipline-related "junk lawsuits" (to use your term).
This proposal brings to mind a recent court case from your own state of Texas, which was ruled upon during your tenure as governor. On May 4, 1993, eight-year-old Mark Ramirez arrived late to class at Bruce Elementary School in Houston. For this infraction, he was beaten on the buttocks so severely that he soiled his clothes and was left with visible bruises. His mother, Alice Ramirez, was summoned by the school nurse to come take him home.
Mrs. Ramirez sought redress for her son by suing the teacher and the school district for assault and gross negligence. State District Judge William Bell, however, summarily threw the case out. Explaining his decision, he told attorneys, "It's silly to be wasting our time and taxpayer's money. We can have people running down here to sue every time there's a spanking." (source: Houston Chronicle, 8/10/96). In addition to dismissing her case, Judge Bell fined Mrs. Ramirez $15,000 for filing a frivolous lawsuit.
Would the ruling of this Texas judge be consistent with the legal standard you seek to impose on the judiciaries of every state? Would your proposed Teacher Protection Act extend this degree of legal immunity to teachers and school officials across the nation?
Special Projects Coordinator
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education [PTAVE]
May 25, 2000
Thank you for your letter about education. I value your perspective.
Educating our children is the most important thing we will ever do, and we must get it right. I beleive our nation has the duty to ensure that every child is educated, and no child is left behind. That is why, as Governor of Texas, I fought for education reforms that have: restored local control of schools to parents and educators; implemented a back-to-basics curriculum; increased funding for early reading programs with a focus on phonics; ended automatic social promotion; expanded charter schools; and increased teacher pay. In Texas, we are seeing results: test scores are up across the board--especially, for Hispanic and African-American students.
If I am fortunate to be elected President, I will continue to make excellence for every child in America a top priority. In recent months, I have proposed fundamentally changing the federal role in education by:
At the moment, we have a great national opportunity--to challenge the defenders of the status quo and to enact education reforms that insist on high standards to match the high hopes of America's parents. Some materials outlining my plans are encloses. I appreciate your taking the time to write.
- Closing the Educational Achievement Gap between Disadvantaged Students and their Peers by making sure that federal dollars no longer follow failure. States and schools will be held accountable for results. And if a school fails to improve, then federal funds will go to parents for tutoring, a charter school, a successful public school, or a private school. I will also establish and fund a $5 billion "Reading First" program to help ensure that every disadvantaged child learns to read.
- Improving Early Learning by reforming Head Start and shifting its focus to helping children develop the basic pre-reading and numeracy skills they need to begin school ready to learn.
- Raising the Standards of Excellent through Local Control and Accountability by giving states and local school districts unprecedented flexibility with federal education tax dollars, and by encouraging them to set high standards and measure results to ensure that schools are teaching and children are learning.
- Expanding Choice and Encouraging Competition by requiring states to issue report cards that tell parents how well schools are teaching their children; doubling the number of charter schools nationwide to ensure greater choice; and increasing to $5000 the amount parents can save tax-free each year to cover educational expenses for their children.
- Promoting Character Development and Restoring Discipline by tripling funding for character education and by requiring states to establish a "zero-tolerance" policy that empowers teachers to remove disruptive students from class.
- Ensuring School Safety by requiring states receiving federal money to show measurable improvements in creating a protective learning environment, and by allowing students in dangerous schools to transfer to safer ones. I will also work to keep guns out of schools with "Project Sentry"--a plan that calls for prosecuting students with guns and the adults who supply them.
- Expanding Opportunities for Teachers by increasing funds for teacher training and by establishing a teacher tax deduction to help defray out-of-pocket classroom expenses.
George W. Bush
June 27, 2000
Dear Governor Bush,
Thank you for your letter of May 25th, in reply to my letter of February 9th. At the risk of being ungracious, however, I must point out that there is little in the content of your letter to suggest that you actually read mine.
My letter inquired specifically about your proposed Teacher Protection Act, seeking some clarification of what you would consider a "junk lawsuit" (the term you used in New Hampshire last November) and citing a 1996 Texas court case. Your letter, by contrast, while making no acknowledgement of the court case, outlines every facet of your education reform plan EXCEPT the Teacher Protection Act.
However great the merit of these educational policies you have listed, they provide no hint of an answer to the question I asked. You might as well have responded with a proposal to balance the federal budget or a summary of health care initiatives.
Enclosed is a copy of my original letter to you. Even if you are understandably too busy to reply a second time (and reply pertinently for the first), I hope you will at least reflect on both the current legal standing of Texas schoolchildren and the serious implications which your Teacher Protection Act could have for schoolchildren across the country.
Tom Johnson,Special Projects Coordinator
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education [PTAVE]