The state of Virginia has recently proposed guidelines for public schools in order to prevent sexual (and other forms of) misconduct between educators and students. Justin and I have blogged about this issue here and here in the past – and it continues to be a topic of strong interest and controversy as we work with administrators across the nation.
First, I really like the fact that Virginia’s Board of Education has attempted to tackle the issue, as so many states and school districts are not being proactive enough to formally hash out this issue. Seemingly, this was prompted by the fact that 120 of the 169 actions taken against educators’ licenses since 2000 had to do with some type of misconduct involving students.
Also important to mention is that at least 46 educators have been arrested due to this problem, with half of those cases involving problematic computer or cell phone communications. I don’t have the statistics yet, but it is possible that these trends are mirrored in other states across the nation, as I don’t think Virginia is alone in its struggle to address inappropriate interactions between school personnel and students.
First, let me bring your attention to their model policy for electronic communications with students:
• Teachers and other school board employees must restrict electronic communications with students to accounts, systems and platforms provided by the school division.
• Teachers and other employees may not use personal wireless communications devices to “text” students and are prohibited from interacting with students through online social-networking sites.
• Teachers and other school board employees must decline or disregard invitations from students to interact through texting and social-networking sites.
• Teachers and other school board employees may not knowingly engage in online gaming with students.
• School board policy on electronic communications with students also applies to teachers and other employees of virtual school programs and other vendors providing instructional services to students.
Overall, the state’s Department of Education states that communications should be transparent, accessible to supervisors (I don’t see how this differs from “transparency” – someone let me know…), and professional in tone.
They also specify guidelines for in-person communications with students:
• Conversations with students should focus on matters related to instruction and school activities.
• School board employees and volunteers should not initiate discussions about their private lives or the intimate details of the private lives of unrelated students.
• Conversation by school board employees and volunteers with students that could be interpreted as flirtatious, romantic or sexual is prohibited.
• The sharing of sexually explicit or obscene jokes and verbal “kidding” of a sexual nature between school board employees, volunteers and students is prohibited.
• Private, one-on-one conversations with students should take place within the potential view, but out of the earshot of other adults — such as in a classroom with the hallway door open. This policy also applies to conversations between volunteers and unrelated students.
• School board employees may not conduct an ongoing series of one-on-one meetings with a student without the knowledge of the principal and without written permission of a parent or guardian.
• The school board’s policy on in-person communications with students also applies to teachers and other employees of virtual school programs and other vendors providing instructional services to students.
Obviously, interacting via technology allows for personal thoughts, emotional content, and private feelings to be shared more readily than in person – and of course allows for one-on-one conversation outside of the purview of other adults, removing accountability and perhaps increasing notions of undetectability. The vast majority of educators will not abuse this – but some will. I feel that the work that VDOE has done in this area is pioneering, and I look forward to seeing what feedback is received to refine these guidelines before they are codified.