Victor Björkund via Flickr Creative Commons

Teachers, school district employees, and approved volunteers who interact with students in Greenville County would be prohibited from having private one-on-one electronic communication with individual students that are unrelated to school activities or student well-being and occur without knowledge of the student’s parents under a new policy designed to define appropriate contact between teachers and students.

Greenville County Schools attorney Doug Webb told school board members that the policy is not designed to chill a teacher’s ability to instruct or mentor students but is designed to address “boundary-blurring” behavior.

“It strikes that balance,” he said.

While some school board members were concerned the policy could create apprehension among staff members, Board Chair Crystal Ball O’Connor, a member of a board committee that is reviewing all of the district’s policy, said the language is strong for a reason. She said during her research, she discovered that a lot of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students developed through electronic communications such as text messages and social media.

“There’s no reason for private electronic communication not related to education,” she said.

The policy says that relationships and interactions between district employees and students may exist outside of school as long as they occur with knowledge of parents. “Employees, however, should not make outside student interaction a regular part of their social life,” the policy says.

Webb said there’s been a movement nationwide to have policies that address teacher-student interaction and that the school district would be one of the few in the Southeast with a policy that addresses as wide a range of behaviors. The policy is designed to prevent “grooming,” defined as drawing a victim into an intimate relationship and maintaining that relationship in secrecy.

The policy says physical contact meant to encourage or reassure students, such as a hand on the shoulder or a pat on the back, should be brief and unambiguous. It also said teachers should not share secrets with students or conduct conversations with students in locations inaccessible to others or in situations on school premises that are unknown to the employee’s supervisor.

School district employees are prohibited from giving or receiving gifts of a personal nature, such as jewelry and clothing, without the knowledge of parents. Exceptions may be made in emergencies or special circumstances such as helping a student in financial need. Employees may also not grant special privileges, rewards, or opportunities to a specific student beyond those school-approved incentives provided to students to promote and recognize achievement and behavior.

The policy says all district employees shall be trained in the prevention, identification, and reporting of possible sexual misconduct or abuse of students. Administrators and employees must immediately report suspected grooming of students. In addition, administrators must regularly review their buildings to identify locations that need to be enhanced to ensure appropriate student supervision.

The policy does not prevent teachers from conducting educational activities that require appropriate physical contact such as teaching a technique or skill or from using necessary and appropriate restraint to prevent students from endangering or harming themselves or others.

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