Inappropriate student-teacher relationships

Inappropriate student-teacher relationships

Kentucky School Advocate
June 2016 
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer

A task force with a mission of combatting inappropriate student-teacher relationships is casting a wide net with its recommendations.

The group’s 34-page report, delivered to the Education Professional Standards Board in April, focuses heavily on prevention, calls on multiple state agencies to take steps within their purview to combat the problem and, perhaps most significantly, also gives parents and students a role in this process.

“Everything that we recommended is a piece of an awareness effort,” said attorney Teresa T. Combs, who chaired the task force and also serves as KSBA’s director of Legal and Administrative Training Services. “If the parents are more aware and the students are more aware of what the boundaries are and the teachers are more aware of what the boundaries are, they won’t be as likely to fall into these type of situations.”
The report calls for review and revision of the state educator code of ethics to provide clear boundaries and definitions of inappropriate behavior. For example, the code might specifically require that teachers notify parents before communicating electronically with students. Educator training programs at Kentucky universities and colleges will be asked to develop pre-service training on this revised code of ethics for their students.

Likewise, various school administrator groups and KSBA will be asked to develop a model code of conduct for all employees, volunteers and students in a school setting. This would be accompanied by model policy and procedures covering inappropriate student-school staff interactions – to include electronic communication and extracurricular activities as well as the classroom.

Students and their parents also would have a role, with the task force recommending that clearly defined student-teacher boundaries be incorporated into student codes of conduct and a curriculum developed for students. Parents would also receive information on those parameters, and on students’ activity on social media.

EPSB Executive Director Jimmy Adams said he is pleased that the report zeroed in on prevention.

“The actions available to the EPSB concerning the disciplinary side of an incident of this nature are already in place,” he said. “I believe, and the belief of the task force, is that working to keep incidents like this from occurring through education and prevention will deter inappropriate relationships.”

Educator preparation programs will have a key role in prevention. Adams envisions training in a revised educator code of conduct would be part of the regular coursework. “One of the things that we really want teacher candidates to understand is that when they’re admitted into a program, they’re coming into the profession and we want them to understand that they, at that point, should be upholding the code of ethics for this profession,” he said.

For established teachers, Adams said EPSB may look at periodic training on the topic.

Combs said more concrete guidelines will help those teachers who, out of their natural inclination to help a child, may not realize they are stepping over the line and perhaps headed down a slippery slope.

“Once you make it clear and you do the pre-service training and districts have policies and you go over these with people, then they should be thinking about it and watching for cues of when the student is getting too personal with them – which happens sometimes – and students, as we train the students and the parents, should be more aware of when the teacher is maybe overstepping professional boundaries,” Combs said.

Neither the EPSB nor the task force has authority over any of the recommendations being made to the other education entities listed in the report, most of which had a representative on the task force. Adams said he and others will be presenting the recommendations to the boards of those groups in hopes that all the pieces will come together.

“It’s entirely up to that agency or board whether they want to take on that task and make a change,” he noted.
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