Risk Management |
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.
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:
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.
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