Missouri's teachers and students are once again free to connect online. In October, 2011 Missouri's governor signed a new law that largely undoes the ban on such communications enacted just this past summer.
The law restores the ability of teachers and students to communicate via the internet. It has a provision to ensure these communications remain appropriate. School districts must come up with measures to prevent improper teacher-student communications by March 1, 2012.
You know the song, "School days, school days, dear ol' golden rule days." It conjures the fun and excitement of a new school year. Sometimes, however, the good feelings are overshadowed by problems at school or new responsibilities for parents at home.
Parents place a lot of trust in school staff and teachers. It's their job to keep them safe and to teach them what they need to know. Unfortunately, that trust is sometimes misplaced.
"Racist" Principal Gets the Boot
Frank Borzellieri lost his job as the principal of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a Catholic elementary school in New York, because he authored several racially-charged books and other writings. Not only were the writings anti-African American and anti-Latino, but they also advocated white supremacy. He was also linked to a white supremacy group.
This probably isn't the type of person you want teaching or even near your child during the school year. No doubt he has a First Amendment right to write and believe whatever he likes. And his employer, the Catholic Church, doesn't have to keep employees who espouse beliefs completely opposed to Catholicism - you can bet there's an employment contract or other agreement saying just that.
All too frequently, incidents of sexual relationships between students and teachers and staff are in the headlines. In an effort to stop this and other types of inappropriate contact, Missouri passed a law that:
- Bars teachers from using work-related web sites, such as school web sites and intranets, to contact students unless school officials and parents have access to the site
- Bars teachers from using nonwork-related web sites, including social networking web sites like Facebook, to get exclusive contact with current or former students
- Makes school districts liable for not reporting current and past incidents of student-teacher sexual contact
- Bars registered sex-offenders from serving on school boards
Schools in Massachusetts have voluntarily adopted rules against inappropriate teacher-student fraternization, and at least one teacher has been fired for "Friending" students on Facebook.
Critics argue that laws and rules like these hurt students' educations because of reduced contact with instructors. Others point to the countless incidents of misconduct and the physical and psychological consequences of the relationships, especially for the student.
There are plenty of things you can do to make sure teachers and staff at your child's school are on the up-and-up:
- Don't be afraid to dig a little. Many teachers and school officials have Facebook, MySpace and other social networking web sites. Check them out
- Run web searches on teachers' names. You may be surprised to find books, blogs and other materials they've written
- Monitor your child's online activities, especially on social networking sites
- Have honest, candid talks with your child about what's happening at school
- Report anything suspicious to the school, and report serious misconduct to the police
Like student-teacher relationships, student injuries and deaths happen all too frequently, too. Especially sports-related incidents. In 2011, for example:
- Beginning August 2, just in time for the new soccer season and school year, Zack's Law requires soccer goals in Illinois to be tied down. Six-year-old Zack Tran died in 2003 when a goal toppled over and crushed him
- Two high school football players in Georgia died because of heat-related injuries during practice
It's not always easy, but you can take some extra steps to help your child avoid injuries or worse:
- Talk to your child about safety in general at school - running in the halls, roughhousing, etc.
- Talk to the school nurse about first aid procedures at the school
- Make sure your student-athlete understands how to stay safe and the importance of taking breaks and drinking water
- Check in on practices, especially in the summer, to make sure coaches are giving sufficient break time
- Take a quick look at the equipment on the football, soccer or baseball field and let the coaches and officials know if you notice anything broken or potentially dangerous. Even sports that don't require equipment may need additional supervision
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