Teacher-student sexual grooming lawsuits are no longer a novelty. Nor are they confined to university sports programs or private schools. This being the case, what are the components of a policy on teacher-student boundaries that all schools should institute?
Put it in Writing
Whether or not a school is mandated by law to comply with specific teacher-student boundary laws and regulations, it will want to have its own set of policies. These policies should be written down. This lets school personnel know that the school functions within a framework of values and expectations that must be maintained. Neglecting to have written expectations can too easily lead to a belief that such policies are not really needed, are unimportant, or that spoken or unspoken understandings will suffice. Every school administrator wants to focus on the positive, but gray areas regarding teacher-student boundary issues will arise. Establishing ground rules in clear written terms helps to limit the damage when those issues do surface. And, if a situation winds up in litigation, written policies add clarity to what standard of care the school should be held. In the courtroom, a school's written policies and procedures can make all the difference between winning and losing a lawsuit.
Appropriate vs. Inappropriate Behavior
A policy cannot be written unless there is an understanding of just what a policy is. According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, a policy is "1. prudence or wisdom in the management of affairs; management or procedure based primarily on material interest, or, 2. a definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions; a high-level overall plan embracing the general goals and acceptable procedures especially of a governmental body." Procedures are the operating instructions on how to execute policies. To be sure, defining policies and expectations means possibly sacrificing some flexibility. In the area of teacher-student boundaries, the resulting gray areas of permissible or impermissible behavior may prompt teachers to seek guidance.
"It's so hard to write these kinds of policies!" Yes, but is it more difficult to write the policies, or is it to acknowledge that a written policy will result in changes to nuanced behavioral expectations? Just remember, if the school policies are unclear, and there is a sincere attempt to clarify the...