State considers crackdown on teacher-student mingling


State education officials are drafting guidelines to help local school districts nip sexual misconduct in the bud, from the classroom to the Internet. 

Stemming from legislation in 2008 directing school officials to craft policies addressing sexual misconduct, the protocols now under study by the Virginia Board of Education arent mandates, just a starting point for administrators, said Charles Pyle, spokesman for VDOE. 

Though the guidelines are up for public comment until February 12, the current proposals include crafting rules regulating student-employee interaction, creating channels to report incidents and setting consequences for policy offenders. 

But among the changes raising eyebrows are calls for administrators to ban teachers and staff from connecting with students via cell phones, social media platforms and through online multiplayer games. 

State officials arent Luddites, Pyle said, they just want to reduce the possibility of misconduct. Theres a common theme in recent cases of misconduct, he said. 

In most of these cases you will find that private electronic conversations between teachers and individual students facilitated the development of an inappropriate relationship, he said. The objective here is not to ban technology or prohibit teachers from using social networking sites, it is to provide some guidance that will allow local school boards to adopt policies that will provide for the use of these things and that will at the same time provide a deterrent for misconduct. 
Still, City Councilman Rob Krupicka, a member of the state education board, believes the draft has room for improvement. If implemented as is, the guidelines could do students more harm than good. 

I dont think we should put in place restrictions on a teachers ability to reach kids, he said. If a teacher wants to and has a way to reach out and communicate with a kid that can help encourage that kid in learning, we shouldnt discourage that.

Local school officials also need clear-cut standards of conduct to keep employees from potentially crossing the line, Krupicka said. Its a tough balancing act, especially considering social medias upsurge in the previous decade, he said. 

You want teachers to reach out to kids and communicate with them in way to get them excited, he said. At the same time you need to make sure teachers are behaving professionally … You dont want teachers to put themselves in a position where they can be compromised and its most important [that we] protect students.

In Alexandria, district policy requires administrators to investigate any allegations of sexual harassment and take appropriate action against students or staff. While they stop short of addressing social media platforms, the districts policies forbid any form of communication interfering with an individuals employment or education.  

Another policy policing technology restricts the use of district computers to education, research or school business.  

The Alexandria School Board is committed to providing a healthy and safe learning environment for our students and our staff, said board  Chairman Yvonne Folkerts in a statement. We update our policies and regulations as needed to make certain our school system is governed fairly and appropriately for all.