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Educational Damage

By Rabbi Meir Orlian, Faculty Member, Business Halacha Institute

Published in: Five Towns Jewish Times. Publication Date: 03/03/2010.

When Moshe saw the Jewish People dancing around the golden calf, he shattered the Tablets at the foot of the mountain. If an educator damages or confiscates something belonging to a student for educational reasons, is he liable?

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David walked in to school with his brand new MP5 and announced, "Look what I bought yesterday!" He proudly showed his friends some of the features: the 4.8 inch vivid color TFT display screen, built in video camera, expandable 16 GB memory, and GPS capability. "Even on sale, it cost $149," he added.
“Good morning, children,” said Rabbi Bloch as he entered class. David quickly put the MP5 away, but his mind was still on his new “toy.” At recess he whipped it out again, and shared a You-Tube clip with his classmates. When the shiur resumed, David slid the MP5 under his Gemara and continued to watch other clips. Rabbi Bloch noticed that David was not focused, and began walking towards him. David quickly slipped the Player under his desk.
The same thing happened the following day, but this time Rabbi Bloch saw the Player. "David, please stay after class for a few minutes," he quietly said. "I'd like to talk to you."
Rabbi Bloch explained that the Yeshiva placed a premium on the moral and spiritual development of the students, in addition to maintaining a high educational level. “The Yeshiva strongly discourages students from bringing video-MP players to school because they often prove distracting in class and sometimes are used to display inappropriate photos and movies,” he concluded. “I know you are excited about your new MP Player. Enjoy it and use it appropriately, but please leave it at home,"
David was careful for a week, but afterwards the MP5 drifted back to school, first during recess and then also during class. Rabbi Bloch again spoke with David and insisted that he stop bringing it. He sent a letter to David's parents noting that the new MP Player was disturbing their son's education and harming the class environment with the movies. "If the issue persists, the school will consider disciplinary actions, including confiscating the player," he ended.
Two weeks later, Rabbi Bloch noticed David huddled with some friends in the corner of the schoolyard. He walked over and was dismayed to see the MP5 player again. As he came closer, he caught a glimpse of an indecent movie being played. He knocked the player out of David's hand and it went crashing against the wall.
David turned around, embarrassed and shocked. He bent down to pick up his player, and saw that it was shattered, its screen now many tiny pieces of glass. Rabbi Bloch took David to the principal. They discussed together the severity of what transpired and the detriment the MP Player was causing to David’s development and to that of his friends.
When they finished talking, David said, "I acknowledge that I was wrong, but Rabbi Bloch still had no right to break my player. It was expensive, and he owes me for it."
"I do not," Rabbi Bloch countered. "I needed to stop you and your friends from watching that movie immediately. You were warned about the MP5, and it was also an important educational lesson for you and your classmates.”
"We will continue to deal with the educational aspect of the incident," said the principal, "but you will have to consult Rabbi Tzedek about the monetary damage."
Rabbi Tzedek heard the story from David and Rabbi Bloch and said: "If it was necessary to confiscate or break the MP5 - either to prevent David and the other students from watching these films or as an appropriate disciplinary measure - Rav Bloch is exempt. However, if it was not necessary, and the educational goal could have been accomplished better in another manner, there is room to hold him liable."
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Rabbi Tzedek explained: "There are two exempting factors to consider. First, the Rama writes that one who is responsible for another may restrain him from violating a prohibition even through physical means. (C.M. 421:13) Certainly, then, he is permitted to restrain him through monetary means. Thus, if it was necessary to break or confiscate David's MP5 to prevent him from watching indecent movies, Rabbi Bloch is exempt."
"What is the second factor?" David and Rabbi Bloch asked.
Rabbi Tzedek continued: "An educator is expected to administer appropriate disciplinary measures to foster the spiritual and moral development of his charges. (Y.D. 245:10 and C.M. 8:5) However, if he punishes in an excessive manner he may be held liable. The determination of “appropriate” or “excessive” discipline varies, and depends on Beis Din’s evaluation of the particular circumstances. (Pischei Teshuva C.M. 424:4 and Aruch Hashulchan 424:17) Potential factors include whether the educator warned the student sufficiently, what alternative disciplinary options were available, and the educational policy and authority of the Yeshiva.