Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators
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Have You Been Threatened? Know Your Rights

The threat of violence is a difficult concern for educators, whether it’s violence perpetrated by students, parents, or other members of the educational community. We sometimes hear from educators who want to know their rights when they feel they have been threatened. What can or should be done in response? It’s helpful to review what the law says when addressing a threat.  

Most forms of speech are protected by the First Amendment—even threats—and often, these protections prohibit prosecution when no actual action has been taken. Certain types of speech, however, can constitute a crime. For the most part, two Texas laws address threats of violence: assault and terroristic threat. Both offenses involve a communication that is in some way intended to create fear that physical harm may immediately take place. And either of these is, by law, a more serious offense when committed against a school district employee. 

A threat constitutes “assault” when someone knowingly threatens imminent bodily injury against another person (or that person’s spouse). By contrast, a “terroristic threat” is a threat to commit a violent offense to any person or property with the intent to put any person in fear of imminent bodily injury.  

These laws require two significant elements: the threat and the intent to cause fear. The threat must be one of imminent physical injury. The word “imminent” causes many threats—even disturbing ones—to fall short of criminal prosecution. For example, say a parent publicly comments they would physically attack their child’s teacher if the child were ever mistreated at school. Here, there is no evidence the parent intends to imminently attack. By contrast, consider a scenario where a teacher successfully breaks up a physical fight between two students. One of them, still visibly seething, grabs a sharp pair of scissors off the teacher’s desk. The student could have known this would put the teacher in fear of imminent harm, and a threat at this time could result in criminal charges. 

It is also important to note that the law does not require that an injury be actually imminent or even that the person making the threat intended to carry it out. However, for both assault and terroristic threat, there must be some basis for concluding the threat was designed to cause someone fear of real impending physical harm to another. 

In addition to being a serious criminal matter, when a student threat meets these criteria, the Texas Education Code provides that a student may be expelled for either a terroristic threat or assaulting a school district employee. A student who engages in conduct that constitutes a terroristic threat must either be expelled or removed from the classroom and placed in a disciplinary alternative education program.  

It is important to note that children under the age of 10 cannot be charged. And while special education students are not exempt from these laws, consideration of their disability—if relevant—is required to determine whether discipline or prosecution is appropriate.  

Any threat of violence from a student or a member of the district community should be reported to your administration. Threats that may not amount to criminal conduct may nonetheless be a matter of discipline in accordance with your district’s code of conduct for students. Such threats may be grounds for requesting the student be removed from the classroom. A teacher can also request assistance from administration in handling interactions of potentially dangerous parents. 

Eligible ATPE members can contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department for assistance and to get legal advice specific to their individual concerns. Documenting concerns often helps alleviate them. ATPE regularly assists eligible members with documenting points of concern with their administration. We also have attorneys who advise and represent our members in filing a grievance if needed.  


The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication and is for informative purposes only. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Please note: Rights based on the Texas Education Code may not apply to all. Many Texas Public Education Code provisions do not apply to public charter schools, and public school districts may have opted out of individual provisions through a District of Innovation plan. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department. 

Author: Jennifer Gordon