With the rising prominence of social media and texting experienced in the U.S. over the past decade, allegations of inappropriate teacher-student communication and conduct have seen a sharp increase.
According to the Department of Education, 4.5 million students in the country are subjected to sexual misconduct by an employee of a school between kindergarten and twelfth grade.
In the hopes of combating this trend, the LPS School Board has recently revised and emphasized enforcement of the GBEE-R policy.
The policy places a clear focus on the social media presence of teachers and their communication with students over text messaging.
“I think [GBEE-R] is a protection for staff and students. Tone sometimes can be construed in a text message and using a third party app (I use Remind.com for LINK) is a safe way to communicate necessary things (including time sensitive deadlines or reminders) to students,” says Mrs. Amanda Glerup, Heritage math teacher.
In regards to these two areas, the policy’s foremost provision is the expectation of LPS staff members to protect the safety, health and emotional welfare of the students.
“The policy itself doesn’t prohibit behaviors; it is more of a regulation of practices,” says Ms. Stacey Riendeau, Heritage principal.
Although teachers are allowed to administer a professional social media profile to students as a supplement to the classroom and for school-related activities, they are strongly discouraged from communicating with students and parents through a personal social media profile. This includes monitoring what they post to the public’s view, “friending” students and parents and maintaining a standard of professionalism.
“People don’t realize that what they do on a Saturday night can be impactful on their futures, for both kids and adults,” says Riendeau.
Texting students through a personal cell phone is also a practice that teachers are advised to avoid. If a staff member does choose to text a student, they are advised to also text that student’s parent the same information sent to said student.
“At the high school level there’s more communication. Our concern is how to keep communication solid. We just have to learn new practices to accommodate the new policy. The communication itself doesn’t really change, it’s just a new practice,” says Riendeau.
Despite the bolded guidelines for staff conduct, the policy still allows for other means of student-teacher communications through third-party websites like Remind.com and Google Classroom. Its intent is not to completely eliminate communication between staff members and students but to encourage communication more secure and safe means.
“It is about conversations when problems arise and being able to communicate alternative avenues of communication,” says Riendeau.
The policy isn’t without skeptics, however. Some concerns have been raised at Heritage by teachers as to the potential inconveniences and barriers between easy and simple communication of teachers and students, especially in clubs and activities. Not only is there an impediment to teacher communication with students, but some argue that there is an even more critical hindrance placed on the ease and ability of students to contact their teachers themselves.
“The changes to email and texting alters communication with students directly. To put out a text to 20 people when it only needs one is pointless. People are a.) using their own data and b.) they are getting information that doesn’t pertain to them. It is going to be an extra hoop, but it is going to make communication more difficult,” says Mrs. Jami De Vries, Heritage English teacher.
Rest assured, no issues at Heritage have precipitated the policy’s enforcement. It is more a response to changing times and the revisions were enacted a week before the start of the school year. GBEE-R is still young, and staff members and students alike are just now getting acclimated to the new changes in practice.by