It is important to maintain professional boundaries during the Covid-19 emergency closure of schools. However, we recognize that teachers and other staff may communicating with students using unusual means (zoom or other video chats, after hours communications) during this time. Teachers or other staff who will be having individual communications with students shall notify the parent/guardian in advance and, if possible, provide the parent/guardian with the approximate times and methods of communication that will be used.
Policy and procedure 5253 applies to all district staff and volunteers. For the purposes of this policy and procedure the terms “district staff”, “staff member(s)” and “staff” also include volunteers.
In a professional staff/student relationship, staff maintain boundaries that are consistent with the legal and ethical duty of care that school personnel have for students.
A boundary invasion is an act or omission by a staff member that violates professional staff/student boundaries and has the potential to abuse the staff/student relationship.
An inappropriate boundary invasion means an act, omission, or pattern of such behavior by a staff member that does not have a demonstrated educational purpose and results in abuse of the staff/student professional relationship.
Staff are members of our community, and are involved in community activities beyond school that may involve students. To avoid the appearance of impropriety, staff are encouraged to inform their building administrator or department head about interactions with students that may raise questions about whether boundary lines are being crossed. For example, a teacher might coach their child’s soccer team, and other members of the team may be students from the same school. Nothing prohibits the staff member from coaching the team; however, it is best practice to let the principal know and to keep the concept of real or perceived boundary invasions in mind.
Inappropriate Boundary Invasion Examples
Examples of possible inappropriate boundary invasions by staff members include but are not limited to the following:
A. Any type of inappropriate physical contact with a student or any other conduct that might be considered harassment under the district’s policy on Sexual Harassment of Students (policy 3205); Prohibition of Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (policy 3207); Nondiscrimination (policy 3210); Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX); the Washington State Law Against Discrimination (Chapter 49.60 RCW); or that constitutes misconduct under RCW 28A.640 and .642 or WAC 181-88-060; or any conduct that would constitute a violation of Chapter 9A.44 or 9A.88.
B. Showing pornography to a student;
C. Singling out a particular student or students for personal attention and friendship beyond the professional staff/student relationship;
D. Socializing where students are consuming alcohol, drugs or tobacco;
E. For non-guidance/counseling staff, encouraging students to confide their personal or family problems and/or relationships. If a student initiates such discussions, staff members are expected to refer the student to appropriate guidance/counseling staff. In either case, staff involvement should be limited to a direct connection to the student’s school performance;
F. Sending students on personal errands unrelated to any educational purpose;
G. Banter, allusions, jokes or innuendos of a sexual nature with students;
H. Disclosing personal, sexual, family, employment concerns or other private matters to one or more students;
I. Addressing students or permitting students to address staff members with personalized terms of endearment, pet names or otherwise in an overly familiar manner;
J. Maintaining personal contact with a student outside of school by phone, e-mail, instant messenger or Internet chat rooms, social networking websites, or letters (beyond homework or other legitimate school business) without including the parent/guardian and the building administrator/supervisor;
K. Exchanging personal gifts, cards or letters with an individual student;
L. Socializing or spending time with students (including but not limited to activities such as going out for beverages, meals or movies, shopping, traveling and recreational activities) outside of school-sponsored events, except as participants in organized community activities;
M. Giving a student a ride alone in a vehicle in a non-emergency situation; and/or
N. Unnecessarily invading a student’s privacy, (e.g. walking in on the student in the bathroom).
O. Soliciting phone, email, text messages or other forms of written or electronic communication to students without building administrator/supervisor and parent permission when the communication is unrelated to school work or other legitimate school business.
P. Any other conduct that fails to maintain professional staff/student boundaries.
Appearances of Impropriety
The following activities are boundary invasions and can create an actual impropriety or the appearance of impropriety. Whenever possible, staff should avoid these situations. If unavoidable these activities should be pre-approved by the appropriate administrator. If not pre-approved, the staff member must report the occurrence to the appropriate administrator as soon as possible.
A. Being alone with an individual student out of the view of others;
B. Inviting or allowing individual students to visit the staff member’s home, unless the visit arises out of the student’s relationship with the employee’s child, or a relationship between the student’s parent/guardian and the employee;
C. Visiting a student’s home, except as part of assigned professional responsibilities, unless the visit arises out of the student’s relationship with the employee’s child, or a relationship between the student’s parent/guardian and the employee; and/or
D. Sending or soliciting email, text messages or other electronic communications to the student, even when the communication relates to school business, except where the parent/guardian and building administrator/supervisor has consented to such communications and receives a copy of the communication. Staff should use school email addresses and phone numbers and the parent/guardian phone numbers for communications with students, except in emergency situations.
Students and their parents/guardians are strongly encouraged to notify the principal (or other administrator) if they believe a staff member may be engaging in conduct that violates this policy or procedure.
Staff members are required to promptly notify the principal or the supervisor of the employee suspected of engaging in inappropriate conduct that violates this policy.
The administrator to whom a boundary invasion concern is reported must document, in writing, the concern and provide a copy of the documentation to the Chief Talent Officer. The Chief Talent Officer, or designee, will maintain a separate file documenting reports of this nature.
Reporting Sexual Abuse
All professional school personnel who have reasonable cause to believe that a student has experienced sexual abuse by a staff member, volunteer, or agency personnel working in the school are required to make a report to Child Protective Services or law enforcement pursuant to board policy and procedure 3421, Child Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Prevention, and RCW 26.44. Reporting suspected abuse to the building principal or supervisor does not relieve professional school personnel from their reporting responsibilities and timelines.
Staff violations of this policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. The violation will may be reported to the state Office of Professional Practices.
All new employees and volunteers will receive training on appropriate staff/student boundaries within three months of employment. Continuing staff will receive training every three years.
Dissemination of Policy and Reporting Protocols
This policy and procedure will be included on the district website and in all employee, student and volunteer handbooks. Annually, all administrators and staff will receive copies of the district’s reporting protocol.
Highline School District 401
Adopted by the Superintendent: August 2013
Revised by the Superintendent: 01.16