Senate bill sparked by arrest of Baker Middle teacher

Legislation filed after the arrest of a Baker schoolteacher sparked debate and a spat Tuesday at the State Capitol.

State Sen. Troy Brown, D-Geismar, filed Senate Bill 608 to prohibit arrest warrants to be issued against school employees for misdemeanors committed upon students during the course of employment unless a law enforcement officer witnesses it or the child suffers physical injury. Only a summons could be issued.

Both an arrest warrant and a summons can result in a court case.

Brown told the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice on Tuesday that Deborah Anderson was humiliated when police put her in handcuffs at Baker Middle School in March.

He said Anderson was arrested “only because she used a reasonable level of discipline” against a student.

Anderson was handcuffed at school on March 13, placed in a patrol car and driven to the police station. She ended up at Parish Prison, where she was booked with simple battery for allegedly yanking a student by his shirt and refusing to let him into her classroom.

It later emerged that Anderson put out her arm to stop the student because his shirt was untucked. Anderson said the eighth-grader cursed at her and refused to tuck in his shirt. The child’s mother called police. Prosecutors refused to move forward with a case against Anderson.

Aurelia Young, of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said the legislation is necessary because law enforcement officers have the authority to use their own discretion and arrest school employees.

“It is humiliating ... when law enforcement officers enter into their classrooms, place them in handcuffs in front of their students and have them arrested for minor offenses,” she said.

Young said Anderson’s arrest wasn’t the first case like that. She said it’s happened in Baker several times.

State Rep. Terry Brown, No Party-Colfax, related an incident that happened when he was a teacher. He said a fight broke out during hall duty.

One student broke a glass bottle and tried to stab another student with a shard. Brown grabbed a broom and swatted the attacking student. He said the student’s parents tried to have him arrested although nothing ever came of it.

“Teachers have a right to discipline children in a way that’s legal. I don’t advocate beating anybody,” Terry Brown said.

State Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, interjected that he has a better bill to address what happened in Baker.

He said his House Bill 1108 addresses the magistrates who issue the arrest warrants. Landry suggested that it would be better to focus on his legislation.

Troy Brown refused to budge. “If this bill passes, it supports our teachers. If his passes, it supports our teachers,” he told the committee.

On a vote of 7-4, the committee advanced SB608 to the full House.