That is a complicated question to answer. Most educators think they are covered – they are only partially right.
Generally speaking, school districts and teachers’ unions will step up and at least provide an attorney to defend civil claims against teachers. The NEA states that it will pay millions in attorneys fees and up to a million dollars in damages.
However, when it comes to criminal claims, it’s a very different story. The NEA, for example, will only pay up to $35,000 if you are accused of a crime, but there’s a catch: the NEA will only reimburse you for those legal costs AFTER you have won your case, AND your actions must have been “within the course and scope of your educational employment activities.” There is a small exception to this rule when the allegation involves corporal punishment.
What does that phrase, “within the course and scope . . .” mean? It means that your actions must be those of an educator: your actions have to be what every other educator does in that circumstance. Educators typically do not perpetrate crimes on their students as part of their job. Translation: if you are accused of committing a crime against your students, there is a real danger that you will have no coverage.
It should come as no surprise then, that over the last few years, only 15% of the educators in Utah accused of crimes received legal assistance from the NEA/DEA. So, does that mean the educator is “covered”? Well, if we put that 15% into the grading rubric, and a student got 15% of the assignment correct, it’s probably not something the teacher or the student would be proud of.
Keep in mind, that for minor crimes, $35,000 would likely cover the legal defense costs. However, for the more substantial charges, attorney fees can easily reach $100,000. In 2019 the median bank account balance for individuals was $5,300. Unless the educator is well above the median, it is unlikely that they will have sufficient funds to pay for a legal defense.