Cruelty is one of the reasons (causes) stated in 24 PS § 11-1122 for which a professional or temporary professional employee can be dismissed from employment by the school board. It is also conduct for which the Professional Standards and Practices Commission (Commission) may impose discipline on a professional educator as stated in § 5(a)(11) of Act 141 of 1973 (P.L. 397). Under the power given by § 5(a)(11), the Commission adopted Chapter 237 of 22 PA Code to define terms, one of which is cruelty.


Section 11-1122 of The Public School Code of 1949 does not define cruelty, but the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judicially defined "cruelty" in Caffas v. The Board of School Directors of the Upper Dauphin Area School District, 23 Pa. Cmwlth. 578, 353 A.2d 898 (1976):

We suggest to the [Pennsylvania] Secretary [of Education] that a fully adequate definition is that of Black's Law Dictionary 541 (rev. 4th ed. 1968). as follows: [Cruelty is] the intentional and malicious infliction of physical suffering upon living creatures, particularly human beings; or, as applied to the latter, the wanton, malicious, and unnecessary infliction of pain upon the body, or the feelings and emotions; abusive treatment; inhumanity; outrage."

Caffas, 353 A.2d at 900. [words added] Cruel behavior may be physical or verbal in nature. Although he engaged in physical abuse of students, there was "…substantial evidence that [Caffas] subjected students and others to cruel and humiliating verbal abuse." Intent is relevant to determining cruelty but as, noted in Caffas, "…[intent] may inferred from the facts and ….denials of intent to inflict injury may be rejected, if belied by the actor's demonstrated conduct." Both verbal behavior and intent were considered in Bovino v. Board of School Directors of Indiana Area School District, 32 Pa. Cmwlth. 105, 377 A.2d 1284 (Pa. Cmwlth., (1977). In Landi v. West Chester Area School District, 353 A.2d 895 (Pa. Cmwlth., 1976), the court stated "….a single incident of sufficient severity may justify a charge of cruelty even against a teacher with a long and unsullied record of service." (897) However, the severity of the behavior is important. See Belasco v. Board of Public Education of School District of Pittsburgh, 510 Pa. 504, 519 A.2d 337 (Pa. 1986).


The scope and effect of Chapter 237 of 22 Pa Code is stated in 22 Pa Code § 237.2. Cruelty is defined for the purposes of discipline imposed upon a professional educator by the Commission in 22 Pa Code § 237.7:

Cruelty is the intentional, malicious and unnecessary infliction of physical or psychological pain upon living creatures, particularly human beings.


School Code 24 PS § 11-1122

Regulations of the State Board of Education 22 PA Code § 237.7


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