A new study shows nearly 8 in 10 teachers (78%) said students are quick to remind them that they have rights or that their parents can sue.

A new poll conducted by Public Agenda and commissioned by Common Good found that discipline in America’s public schools is falling victim to “a culture of challenge and second guessing.” Teachers told Public Agenda about a “tyranny of the few,” armed with the possibility of a lawsuit, undermining their ability to maintain order in the classroom.

Among the most alarming results demonstrating how our lawsuit culture undermines school discipline:

Nearly 8 in 10 teachers (78%) said students are quick to remind them that they have rights or that their parents can sue.

Nearly half of teachers surveyed (49%) reported they have been accused of unfairly disciplining a student.

More than half of teachers (55%) said that districts backing down from assertive parents causes discipline problems in the nation’s schools.

Discipline problems, the survey found, are compromising student learning and driving a substantial number of teachers out of the profession. In fact, 1 in 3 teachers said colleagues had left their school because student discipline was such a challenge, and the same number personally considered leaving.

“The present legal environment undermines order in schools by enabling students and parents to threaten a lawsuit over virtually anything,” said CG Chair Philip K. Howard. “The legal system must strike a better balance between the claimed rights of individuals and the legitimate interests of society as a whole.”

Public Agenda President Ruth Wooden noted, “At a time when the achievement stakes for students have never been higher, the fact is that in school after school, a minority of students who routinely challenge legitimate school rules and authority are preventing the majority of students from learning and teachers from teaching.”

Other findings included:

8 in 10 teachers reported that their school has students who should be removed and sent to alternative schools.

76% of teachers say that special education students who misbehave are often treated too lightly, even when their misbehavior has nothing to do with their disability.

Teachers and parents are open to a broad range of solutions, including giving principals greater authority to discipline students and limiting legal challenges to everyday disciplinary decisions. The poll found:

84% of teachers and 70% of parents strongly or somewhat support giving principals a lot more authority to handle discipline issues as they see fit.

87% of teachers and 74% of parents strongly or somewhat support proposals for establishing alternative schools for chronic offenders.

94% of teachers say finding ways to hold parents more accountable for kids’ behavior would be a very or somewhat effective solution to schools’ discipline problems. (69% said very effective.)

82% of teachers and 78% of parents strongly or somewhat support limiting lawsuits to serious situations like expulsion.

82% of teachers and 69% of parents also strongly or somewhat approve of removing the possibility of monetary awards for parents who sue over discipline issues.

91% of teachers and 88% of parents strongly or somewhat support an approach of strictly enforcing little rules so the right tone is created and bigger problems are avoided.

91% of teachers say putting more emphasis on classroom management skills in teacher education programs would be a very or somewhat effective solution.

94% of teachers believe that special education students should be treated just like other students, unless their misbehavior is related to their disability. (65% said this would be a very effective solution, while another 29% consider it somewhat effective.)

More here.