Laptops in the classroom can be a distraction or a useful tool. Image: Flickr / billselak / CC-BY-SA

The relationship between education and technology is a difficult one. Many teachers view technology as a distraction for students. One Valdosta State University professor has been arrested and suspended for trying to reduce the distraction in his classroom.

Professor Rybicki’s arrest

Professor Frank J. Rybicki is an assistant professor of mass media at Valdosta State University. Recently, a student was playing on her laptop during class. Professor Rybicki reportedly requested that the student close her laptop and pay attention to the lecture. The student did not comply, and Rybicki reportedly closed the laptop in front of her. The student made a report to the police, claiming her fingers were injured. Because of that report, Professor Rybicki was arrested for battery and suspended from teaching classes, pending an investigation.

Legal definition of battery

The question of whether Rybicki’s arrest was justified is a difficult one. Technically, battery is any offensive or harmful contact of one person perpetrated on another person. Actual visible injury is not required for a tort or legal claim of battery. By this legal definition, Rybicki may very well be considered guilty of minor battery. The punishment for battery can range from arrest and a light fine to several years in prison and a heavy fine. The university is remaining tight-lipped about the incident, releasing a statement that said:

“The university is investigating an incident involving a faculty member, and this matter will be processed through the appropriate legal channels. In terms of class instruction, modifications have been made. All employees are expected to perform their obligations and responsibilities in a professional manner.”

Who controls the classroom?

In classrooms, especially college classrooms, the question of who is in control should have an easy answer – the teacher. The extent to which professors can dictate the rules and regulations of a college classroom, however, can be convoluted. College classrooms can be public or private space, depending on the status of the college. Colleges are allowed to set their own rules and regulations for student and professor behavior, as long as they do not violate laws of the city or state around them. Though socially, the professor may have been in the right, legally this may, in fact, be a case of battery.


Inside Higher Ed:

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