On January 19, 15-year-old Anthony Ruelas was suspended for two days from Gateway Middle School, an alternative school in Killeen, Texas, for leaving class. Only given that information, the decision seems pretty cut-and-dry.
However, when the context of the scenario is taken into account, it quickly enters a moral gray area. Anthony left class because he was carrying another student to the nurse’s office when she was having an asthma attack.
During class, another student complained to the teacher that she was having trouble breathing. The teacher contacted the school nurse and was waiting for a response via email when the student fell out of her chair, gasping for air.
The teacher had told the class to stay seated and remain calm while she waited for the nurse’s response. Anthony, however, decided that action needed to be taken, saying “Fuck that, we ain’t got time to wait for no email from the nurse.” Ruelas carried the student to the nurse’s office.
Ruelas was suspended for disobeying a teacher’s orders and is now being home-schooled.
From one perspective, his suspension makes perfect sense. No matter the situation, Ruelas disobeyed a teacher’s orders.
It’s worth noting that Gateway is an alternative school, meaning that Ruelas must have been consistently in trouble before in another school to be sent there. Alternative schools tend to be much stricter and more severe in their policy enforcement, so it’s somewhat unsurprising that he was suspended for something that seems trivial.
On the other hand, Ruelas may have saved another student’s life, and the context of the situation should be taken into account when punishment is considered.
An important consideration when looking at Ruelas’ actions is that typical means of contacting the nurse were not working effectively.
It’s strange to begin with that the process of getting a child to the nurse involves waiting for emails. Surely, an intercom system or simply walking over to the nurse’s office with the student would be more efficient.
Telling the students to remain calm wasn’t a bad decision, but at the point that the student in danger fell out of her chair, the teacher shouldn’t be angry at a kid for carrying her to the nurse’s office. Frankly, that’s what the teacher should have been doing instead of waiting for an email from the nurse.
The context of the scenario justifies Ruelas’ actions, despite having received instructions to the contrary. This sentiment is echoed in Texas state law.
Texas is one of many states to have a Good Samaritan Law in place to encourage civilian action in emergency situations.
According to the Texas Medical Association website, the Good Samaritan Law “limits the civil liability of persons administering emergency care in good faith unless their actions are wilfully and wantonly negligent.”
It’s obvious that Ruelas’ actions were in good faith, but it may be possible to debate whether actively disobeying the teacher’s orders constitutes negligent action.
Typically, in a law context, performing an action negligently is to commit it in a way that is more harmful than how a typical person would commit it. This is different than in popular connotation, which sometimes equates neglecting something with ignoring it.
In the context of the law, Ruelas managed to help another student in need when traditional means were proving ineffective. The school is in the wrong, and should issue a public apology.