COLUMBIA – The Columbia School Board will review changes to the staff/student relations policy that would help prevent inappropriate conduct between students and teachers.
The Columbia Board of Education will first look at the changes on May 10.
The policy changes include 17 concrete violations such as “caressing, fondling or kissing students,” “giving gifts to individual students,” “allowing the student to drive the staff member's vehicle” and “meeting students in non-work settings without the parent/guardian being present.”
Superintendent Chris Belcher said the proposed revisions are based on legal concerns about inappropriate use of social networking sites such as Facebook. Belcher said the changes, which were introduced by the Missouri School Boards’ Association, are a statewide issue.
“It has not been a problem for us yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be proactive to stop it,” Belcher said. “The problem with Facebook is that it becomes a more public record than e-mail.”
The discussion about appropriate conduct centers around the distinction between public and private pages on Facebook. The proposed changes state that teachers and staff may not “knowingly grant students access to any portion of the member's personal social networking website or webpage that is not accessible to the general public.”
The document also prevents staff members from knowingly allowing students on their pages if the pages portray sex, nudity, drugs or alcohol, said Kyle Farmer, director of school law at the association. So a teacher would be allowed to have a private profile, but that person couldn't interact with students on it.
“(A teacher's profile) has to be something that is open to the public. It can’t be private,” Farmer said. “If a teacher wants to create a page for their class that is perfectly appropriate.”
The current staff/student relations policy states in general that staff and students should not have any inappropriate relations.
Betsy Jones, the director of guidance at Rock Bridge High School, said the guidance department has a Facebook page, which it uses as a one-way communication tool.
“We discourage communication with students via personal e-mail or Facebook account,” Jones said. “We also know that the No. 1 communication tool that our high school students are using right now is Facebook.”
Jones said the page is used mostly to help students with making plans for after high school. Before Facebook, the school used tools such as bulletin boards and the school website, which Jones deemed archaic from a student’s perspective.
She said that all comments on the page are screened and that the department has been very transparent.
“The goal is not to limit interaction, just to make sure everything is done on a professional level,” Farmer said.