House panel approves 'teacher protection bill'

House panel approves 'teacher protection bill'

The House of Representatives on Tuesday responsible for basic education has approved a bill that aims to safeguard teachers from unfounded allegations of child abuse by clarifying the actions that constitute their "discipline authority" within the classroom. The bill, which consolidates three separate bills (House Bills 364, 549, and 6940), seeks to establish support mechanisms for teachers and school personnel regarding classroom management and discipline.

The proposed legislation seeks to amend Republic Act 7610, also known as the Child Abuse Law, specifically about acts carried out by teachers or school staff following disciplinary rules and procedures issued by the Department of Education (DepEd). The intention is to ensure that such actions are not automatically classified as child abuse.

The Makabayan bloc, which filed House Bill 549, emphasized the need to protect teachers while recognizing the importance of child protection.

The consolidated bill aims to modify a section of the Child Abuse Law that could classify all forms of student discipline as child abuse, thereby endangering teachers who lack legal means to defend themselves. To address this concern, Rep. Roman Romulo, the committee chair, sought the assistance of Jennelyn Bilocura, a state counsel from the Department of Justice (DOJ), to refine the bill's language and exempt teachers' disciplinary actions from the scope of the Child Abuse Law. The intention is to specify the disciplinary authority of teachers rather than exempting teachers themselves.

Romulo acknowledged the importance of maintaining penalties for individuals who commit abusive acts against students but highlighted the need to prevent the Child Abuse Law from being misused to target teachers who enforce discipline in the classroom.

The bill also includes provisions that grant teachers facing child abuse charges the option to receive free legal assistance from the Public Attorney's Office and the DepEd.

Although the bill was unanimously approved, subject to wording amendments, a representative from the DepEd cautioned against exempting all acts of classroom discipline from being categorized as child abuse and exploitation, as this could be overly broad. The responsibility of identifying whether an act constitutes child abuse typically lies with judges or courts, according to Tara Rama, director of the DepEd Education Program Management.

Romulo assured that these concerns would be addressed in the revised version of the bill, aiming to strike a balance between protecting teachers and safeguarding children.

The DepEd's Child Protection Policy prohibits teachers from using corporal punishment, which encompasses any disciplinary action involving physical, humiliating, or degrading treatment. Furthermore, the department maintains a "zero tolerance" policy towards child abuse, exploitation, violence, discrimination, bullying, and other forms of abuse, as outlined in its Child Protection Policy (DepEd Order No. 40, s. 2012).

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