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To Text or Not to Text? Recommended Practices for Staff-Student Communications

By Net Assets posted 11-17-2016 02:16 PM

  
Texting woman

Risk Management |

Texting is where students live. For staff-student communications, schools must develop policies that balance safety with reality.

Article by Grace H. Lee

From the November/December 2016 Net Assets

Is there such a thing as being too vigilant in reminding faculty and staff of appropriate boundaries with students? Possibly not, given the combination of recent high-profile abuse investigations and the pervasiveness of mobile phones.

Part of this conversation involves avoiding being alone with students behind closed doors or interacting with students over social media, as I wrote in the September/October Legal Matters. Especially tricky, however, is the matter of texting. While no two schools have an identical culture or value set, every school must strive to craft texting policies that balance safety with reality.

Communication over preferred methods, such as school email accounts, often falls to the wayside because students simply don’t use them.

Texting has many practical advantages. It’s the main form of communication among students; it’s where they live. If you want — or need — to reach a student, that’s how you’ll find him or her. This is why many faculty and staff find it so challenging to adhere to well-intentioned policies forbidding texting. A coach may need to quickly alert the team to a change in location for a game. A chaperone may need to locate a straggling student before the bus leaves after an outing to the city. Some teachers argue that there are practical reasons and even educational benefits in allowing students to text them questions about an assignment on evenings or weekends. Communication over preferred methods, such as school email accounts, often falls to the wayside because students simply don’t use them.

Texting between adults and children is also a slippery slope. There is tremendous potential for misunderstandings, blurred privacy lines, inappropriate relationships and favoritism — real or perceived — when schools permit unlimited and unsupervised texting. While some schools outright forbid or strongly discourage teacher-student texting of any kind, others have successfully drawn broader parameters to address the realities of certain situations.

Here are some of the policies schools have developed to establish clear boundaries, maintain transparency and minimize risk:

  • Coaches/teachers may send group texts to an entire team/class.
  • Coaches/teachers may send group texts to an entire team/class but must also include parents.
  • Any texts between coaches/teachers and students must copy parents.
  • Chaperones, coaches and other adults may use school-provided phones as needed to text students while off-campus for safety and other reasons.
  • Coaches/teachers may use certain group messaging apps to send alerts and otherwise communicate with students. Two popular apps are Remind and GroupMe.
  • Faculty may text students in an emergency if other means of communication are not successful.
  • Faculty and students may text pursuant to clear guidelines about the boundaries and limited school-related nature of the communications.

Each school is advised to take an honest look at the current practices and needs of your faculty and other staff. Consider the practical realities of communicating with students in certain situations, and enlist legal counsel, if needed, to set parameters around texting. You may find that an all-or-nothing approach no longer fits the current model and new guidelines are needed.

Grace Lee is NBOA’s vice president, legal affairs, and an attorney who has represented independent schools in various employment and related matters. Contact her at grace.lee@nboa.org.


#Technology #Faculty

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