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Schools almost always have a list of guidelines and policies. We've all heard that before. But what's the different between a policy and a guideline? And should there be more policies regarding teachers' social media interactions with students?
Generally speaking, policies are rules with teeth. If a school has implemented a specific policy, and that policy is broken, then there is a specific consequence that can be attributed to that policy violation.
Policies may be more strict than state laws, if a school decides to do so. Almost all public school districts publish their school policies. In fact, there are usually state-wide clearinghouses that publish high school policies, such as Gamut Online for California schools. As you can tell, policies are big deals in schools. A guideline, on the other hand, is far less. Though more than a mere suggestions of how to fulfill a policy, if a guideline is broken, the violation can be circumvented if it was done for a higher purpose. Many schools have guidelines on how teachers should interact with students. But few have policies.
Most schools have guidelines when it comes to social media and texting interactions between teachers and students. But some legal experts, including attorney Bob Allard, who has successfully represented numerous students and athletes in molestation lawsuits, believe the only thing that can help is school policies against such interaction.
In a recent lawsuit filed against the Union School District in Santa Clara Country Superior Court, Allard is asking for a string of policies to be established, including training school staff to recognize when a student is being groomed for sexual activity by a teacher, and also limiting online communication between teachers and students, especially isolated contact. In that case, the district is being sued for liability relating to one of its former middle school teachers currently facing 43 counts of child molestation on two female students at the school. Social media and texting were at the heart of the communication between student and teacher. According to Allard, schools must be forced to take stronger policies in favor of protecting students from teachers. "If you compare the number of kids who have been sexually abused in the classroom versus kids who have been threatened by gun violence, it pales in comparison," Allard said. "It's a balance of harm."
The balance Allard is referring to is weighing the benefit of having teachers as trusted adults in students' lives to discuss issues happening both inside and outside school property, against the cost of having those teachers cross the line of trusted advisor and into the role of grooming sexual predator.
According to Heather Lattimer, dean of the Connie L. Lurie College of Education at San Jose State University, students need to be able to get to know and bond with their teachers through social media and texting. "Students seek someone they trust, and that is often a teacher. To be put in a situation where you can't have that conversation is problematic, because then the student doesn't come forward."
If you or someone you love has been sexually assaulted by a teacher or coach, contact a local personal injury attorney. A legal expert can discreetly listen to the facts of your case, and may be able to help you recover for the emotional harm and injuries you sustained at the hands of someone you once trusted.
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