Teachers and students might not always be the best of friends, but under a revised policy that’s nearing approval in the Hannibal school district, teachers and students shouldn’t even be Facebook “friends”.
School boards of education routinely review and update their massive policy manuals. Hannibal’s board recently reviewed its policy on staff and student relations and fraternization. The policy is getting an internet-age update to include social networking opportunities.
The policy, adopted in January, 2009, bans dating and “any improper fraternization or undue familiarity with students, regardless of the student’s age and/or regardless of whether the student may have “consented” to such conduct.”
Staff who break the rule can be fired, the policy says, even if their conduct did not break any laws.
The policy also says it is improper for a staff member to have “frequent personal communications with a student”. The 2009 version defined that as “via phone, letters, e-mail, notes, etc.”
The revision adds:
“Frequent personal communication with a student unrelated to course work or official school matters” means any form in which that personal communication may occur including, but not limited to, voice or text-based communication via phone, e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging or through social networking Web sites.
So, should a teacher “friend” a student on Facebook, or accept a friend request from a student, under this policy?
“I would say that it is not a good idea,” said Superintendent of Schools Mike DiFabio. “As the policy states: ‘Staff must establish appropriate personal boundaries with students and not engage in any behavior that could reasonably lead to even the appearance of impropriety.’
“I would contend that Facebook friends could reasonably lead to the appearance of impropriety.”
DiFabio said the district does not allow students to access chat rooms using school computers, but will set up safe chat areas for teachers who need them.
The current policy can be seen here. The board’s proposed policy is below:
SUBJECT: STAFF-STUDENT RELATIONS (FRATERNIZATION)
The Board of Education requires that all School District employees maintain a professional, ethical relationship with District students that is conducive to an effective, safe learning environment; and that staff members act as role models for students at all times, whether on or off school property and both during and outside of school hours. Staff must establish appropriate personal boundaries with students and not engage in any behavior that could reasonably lead to even the appearance of impropriety.
Staff members are prohibited, under any circumstances, to date or engage in any improper fraternization or undue familiarity with students, regardless of the student’s age and/or regardless of whether the student may have “consented” to such conduct. Further, employees shall not entertain students or socialize with students in such a manner as to create the perception that a dating relationship exists. Similarly, any action or comment by a staff member which invites romantic or sexual involvement with a student is considered highly unethical, in violation of District policy, and may result in the notification of law enforcement officials and the filing of criminal charges and/or disciplinary action by the District up to and including termination of employment.
Inappropriate employee behavior includes, but is not limited to, flirting; making suggestive comments; dating; requests for sexual activity; physical displays of affection; giving inappropriate personal gifts; frequent personal communication with a student (via phone, e-mail, letters, notes, etc.) unrelated to course work or official school matters; providing alcohol or drugs to students; inappropriate touching; and engaging in sexual contact and/or sexual relations. “Frequent personal communication with a student unrelated to course work or official school matters” means any form in which that personal communication may occur including, but not limited to, voice or text-based communication via phone, e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging or through social networking Web sites.
Even if the student participated “willingly” in the activity (regardless of the student’s age), inappropriate fraternization of staff with students is against District policy and may be in violation of professional standards of conduct and New York State Law. However, inappropriate employee conduct does not need to rise to the level of criminal activity for such conduct to be in violation of District rules and subject to appropriate disciplinary sanctions.
Any student who believes that he/she has been subjected to inappropriate staff behavior as enumerated in this policy, as well as students, school employees or third parties who have knowledge of or witness any possible occurrence of inappropriate staff-student relations, shall report the incident to any staff member or either the employee’s supervisor, the student’s Principal or the District’s designated Complaint Officer. In all events such reports shall be forwarded to the designated Complaint Officer for further investigation. Anonymous complaints of inappropriate fraternization of staff members with students shall also be investigated by the District. Investigations of allegations of inappropriate staff-student relations shall follow the procedures utilized for complaints of harassment within the School District. Allegations of inappropriate staff-student behavior shall be promptly investigated and will be treated as confidential and private to the extent possible within legal constraints.
Any employee having knowledge of or reasonable suspicion that another employee may have engaged in inappropriate conduct with a student that may constitute child abuse (specifically, child abuse in an educational setting) must also follow the District’s reporting procedures for such allegations; and such information will be reported by the designated administrator as required by state law to law enforcement officials, the State Education Department and/or Child Protective Services as may be applicable.
If a student initiates inappropriate behavior toward a staff member, that employee shall document the incident and report it to his/her Building Principal or Supervisor.
The District shall promptly investigate all complaints of inappropriate staff-student relations, and take prompt corrective action to stop such conduct if it occurs.
Prohibition of Retaliation
The Board of Education prohibits any retaliatory behavior directed against complainants, victims, witnesses, and/or any other individuals who participate in the investigation of allegations of inappropriate staff-student relations. Follow-up inquiries and/or appropriate monitoring shall be made to ensure that the alleged conduct has not resumed and that all those involved in the investigation have not suffered retaliation. Any act of retaliation is subject to appropriate disciplinary action by the District.
The Principal of each school and/or program supervisor shall be responsible for informing students, staff and volunteers of the requirements of this policy, including the duty to report and the procedures established for investigation and resolution of complaints. Further, staff training shall be provided to facilitate staff identification of possible behavior that may constitute inappropriate staff-student relationships. Students shall be provided such training in an age appropriate manner.
The District’s policy (or a summary thereof) shall be disseminated as appropriate to staff, students and parents. Further, this topic shall be addressed in the District Code of Conduct.
Any staff member who engages in inappropriate conduct with a student, prohibited by the terms of this policy, shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary measures up to and including termination of employment in accordance with legal guidelines, District policy and regulation, and the applicable collective bargaining agreement. A violation of this policy may also subject the employee to criminal and/or civil sanctions as well as disciplinary action by the State Education Department.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 United States Code (USC) Section 1681 et seq.
Education Law Article 23-B
Social Services Law Sections 411-428
8 New York Code of Rules and Regulations (NYCRR) Part 83