Cursing at a teacher may get a student suspended.

But that doesn't make it a crime, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday.

In a unanimous decision, the justices overturned the finding of a court commissioner that the student, identified only as Nikolas S., was delinquent.

Justice Scott Bales said state law does make it illegal to "abuse" a teacher. And he said that, in some circumstances, pure words may rise to that level.

But Bales said that, in this case, the student's words "were not inherently likely to provoke a violent reaction by the teacher." Absent that, the justice said, there is no crime.

The case involves two separate incidents.

In the first, Nikolas was assigned to a classroom for students serving on-campus suspension. He refused to give the teacher his cell phone when she saw him using it in class.

When she called security, he called her a "bitch" under his breath.

The second incident occurred two days later with the same teacher when Nikolas asked to be assigned to a different classroom. The teacher told him to wait while she sought administrative approval.

After about 15 minutes he became impatient and argumentative, with the result that other students began to stand up. The teacher later said the "whole room basically lost control."

It ended with Nikolas cursing at her several times before leaving the classroom.

Aside from being suspended, Nikolas was charged with a law dating from territorial times which makes it a crime to knowingly abuse a teacher or other school employee on school grounds or while that person is performing his or her duties.

Bales said the U.S. Constitution generally precludes any laws limiting speech. He said there are a few narrow exceptions, one of those for what the courts have called "fighting words."

Here, the justice said, applying the law to pure speech is unconstitutionally overbroad.

Bales said what prosecutors want is to apply the law to "contemptuous, coarse or insulting words." But that interpretation, he said, could easily include statements that otherwise are constitutionally protected.

"Indeed, the statute arguably would extend to a spectator who jeers at the visiting team's coach during a high school football game," Bales wrote.

And even the use of the ultimate F-word, he said, doesn't change that. Bales said the only time it crosses the line into fighting words, which can be restricted, is if words are likely to provoke violent reaction.

In this case, the justice said, the insults hurled at the teacher and the circumstances surrounding the incident are unlikely to have provoked a violent reaction from the teacher.

"We do not believe that the natural reaction of the average teacher to a student's profane and insulting outburst, unaccompanied by any threats, would be to beat the student," Bales wrote.

"Nikolas's conduct, although reprehensible, is properly punished through school discipline or possibly prosecution under other statutes," though he did not say what laws might apply.

(9) comments

quietgardens

There needs to be stronger consequences for inappropriate behavior in schools. Parents need to be the first in line, administration the second. The judge obviously is out of touch with reality. Teachers shouldn't have to put up with stuff like that! You let one incident like that happen today (especially in junior high or high school), and you can't get the class back into learning mode. I believe the schools need harsher consequences, and to stick to them. No slaps on the wrist, promising that they will be better next time. Education is a priveledge, not a right, or a babysitter.

Patriotic

this punk probably has asshole parents too. I think he should have his mouth washed out with soap like they did in the old days.This clown is our countries future? God help us all when buttwipes like this(and his parents) are allowed to breed.

kb1234

The headline for this article is inaccurate. The Arizona Supreme Ct did not say that the student's outrageous behavior was not a crime. I read the whole opinion and the court found that student's language did not constitute the only crime charged. The court specifically said that the student's conduct could been disorderly conduct and some other offenses but the prosecutor/State did not charge those other offenses. A court cannot charge someone with a crime, the agent for the State (Prosecutor or police) do that. I don't agree with the Arizona Supreme Court's reasoning but there was some prior court opinions that indicated that foul language (without the immediate threat of violent reaction) would not be the particular offense that was charged. If I was the police or prosecutor, I would have charged additional crimes that did not have the weakness this particular crime had.

SimpleTruth

DrunkenMonkey, I always kinda looked at it like this, if you spank a kid for doing something characteristically or morally wrong, that is discipline, spanking your kid because you had a bad day at work, that type of junk is abuse. Too many parents today want to be their kids "Friend" when Proverbs 22:6 states we are to instruct and train up our child.

DrunkenMonkey

SimpleTruth, that is the same approach my parents took and the same approach I took with mine. Maybe I was lucky though. My daughter turned out great! She never got into drinking or drugs. Not to say she didn't push her limits, but I pushed back.

Parents today are just scared to death that they will get arrested for disciplining their children too harshly. I didn't worry about it. Mine got it when she needed it and anyone that interfered got it too.

SimpleTruth

Tookie:
The article states, "Aside from being suspended" & "unaccompanied by any threats"
He was suspended and the cursing didn't include a threat.
I do think you educators get a bad wrap. Low Pay for Lower respect. That's the Arizona Education System. Personally, I would as a parent disciplined my kid the way my parents disiplined me when disrepecting an elder. WHAM!!! Smack!!!! POW!!! Let's Pray.

Tookie88

OK...let me get this straight, teachers continue to get abused verbally and nothing happens to this kid? Administration won't back the teachers and enforce discipline because they are afraid of being sued by idiot parents. As a teacher, I am left helpless as students are rude, verbally abusive, and often threat bodily harm...not to mention vandalizing personal property of the teachers. Teachers are left defenseless and have to take it...or end up in jail or being sued for standing up to these punks. Where the heck are the parents??? No wonder so many people are leaving this profession...who wants a low paying job with almost zero respect?!

Slabside

I agree.

crk133

They should have charged him with disorderly conduct under ARS 13-2904(A)(1). 13-2904. Disorderly conduct; classification

A. A person commits disorderly conduct if, with intent to disturb the peace or quiet of a neighborhood, family or person, or with knowledge of doing so, such person:

1. Engages in fighting, violent or seriously disruptive behavior;

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