Maintaining Professional Staff/Student Boundaries

  • POLICY 5253

    The purpose of this policy is to provide all staff, students, volunteers and community members with information about their role in protecting children from inappropriate conduct by adults. This policy applies to all district staff and volunteers. For purposes of this policy and procedure, the terms “district staff,” “staff member(s),” and “staff” also include volunteers.

    General Standards

    The board of directors expects all district staff to maintain the highest professional standards when they interact with students. District staff are required to maintain an atmosphere conducive to learning by consistently maintaining professional boundaries.

    Professional staff/student boundaries are consistent with the legal and ethical duty of care that district employees have for students.

    The interactions and relationships between district staff and students should be based upon mutual respect and trust, an understanding of the appropriate boundaries between adults and students in and outside of the educational setting, and consistency with the educational mission of the district.

    District staff will not intrude on a student’s physical and emotional boundaries unless the intrusion is necessary to serve a demonstrated educational purpose. An educational purpose is one that relates to the staff member’s duties in the district. Additionally, staff members are expected to be aware of the appearance of impropriety in their own conduct and the conduct of other staff when interacting with students. Staff members will notify and discuss issues with their building administrator or supervisor whenever they suspect or question whether conduct is inappropriate or constitutes a violation of this policy. 

    The board recognizes that staff may have familial and pre-existing social relationships with parents or guardians and students.  Staff members should use appropriate professional judgment when they have a dual relationship to students to avoid violating of this policy, the appearance of impropriety, and the appearance of favoritism.  Staff members shall pro-actively discuss these circumstances with their building administrator or supervisor.

    Use of Technology

    The board of directors supports the use of technology to communicate for educational purposes. However, district staff are prohibited from inappropriately communicating with students online or from engaging in any conduct on social networking websites that violates the law, district policies or procedures, or other generally recognized professional standards.

    Staff whose conduct violates this policy may face discipline and/or termination, consistent with the district’s policies and procedures, acceptable use agreement and collective bargaining agreements, as applicable.

    The superintendent/ designee will develop protocols for reporting and investigating allegations and develop procedures and training to accompany this policy.


    Boundary Invasions

    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 an educational purpose and results in abuse of the staff/student professional relationship.

    Inappropriate Boundary Invasion Examples

    Examples of possible inappropriate boundary invasions by staff members include, but are not limited to, the following:

    1. 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); or 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 RCW;

    2. Showing pornography to a student;

    3. Singling out a particular student or students for personal attention and friendship beyond the professional staff/student relationship;

    4. Socializing where students are consuming alcohol, drugs or tobacco;

    5. 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;

    6. Sending students on personal errands unrelated to any educational purpose;

    7. Banter, allusions, jokes or innuendos of a sexual nature with students;

    8. Disclosing personal, sexual, family, employment concerns, or other private matters to one or more students;

    9. Addressing students or permitting students to address staff members with personalized terms of endearment, pet names, or otherwise in an overly familiar manner;

    10. Maintaining personal contact with a student outside of school by phone, email, Instant Messenger or Internet chat rooms, social networking Web sites, or letters (beyond homework or other legitimate school business) without including the building administrator/supervisor and parent/guardian;

    11. Exchanging personal gifts, cards or letters with an individual student;

    12. 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;

    13. Giving a student a ride alone or being alone in a vehicle in a non-emergency situation; and/or

    14. Unnecessarily invading a student’s privacy (e.g. walking in on the student in the bathroom);

    15. 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; or

    16. 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.

    1. Being alone with an individual student out of the view of others;

    2. Inviting or allowing individual students to visit the staff member’s home;

    3. Visiting a student’s home or other locations outside of school for non-educational purposes; or

    4. 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 or 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.

    Reporting Violations

    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 or volunteer suspected of engaging in inappropriate conduct that violates this policy or procedure.

    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 assistant superintendent or director in charge of the district’s human resources. The assistant superintendent or director of human resources will maintain a file documenting reports of this nature made.

    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 Chapter 26.44, RCW. Reporting suspected abuse to the building principal or supervisor does not relieve professional school personnel from their reporting responsibilities and timelines.

    Disciplinary Action

    Staff violations of this policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. The violation may also be reported to the state Office of Professional Practices.

    Dissemination of Policy and Reporting Protocols

    This policy and procedure will be included on the district website and in the district staff, student and volunteer handbooks. Annually, all administrators and staff will receive copies of the district’s reporting protocol.