Education Law

New School Year, New School Problems

Update

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.

Original Article

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.

Bad Apples

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.

Restricted Access

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.

Take Action

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

Avoiding Tragedies

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

Take Action

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

Exchange Students

Many US families host foreign exchange students each year. It's a great way to learn about another culture and give students the opportunity to learn in your local schools. Organizations often need host families to match-up with exchange students. Here's what you need to do:

  • Contact an exchange student program in your area
  • Complete the application form. You need to give information about your family members, your home and submit background checks for your and your family members
  • Complete a home visit with someone from the exchange program
  • Select a student who best fits in with your family and lifestyle

It's also a good idea to learn as much as possible about the student's culture to get the most out of the experience.

The new school year should be a fun and exciting time for the whole family. Careful planning and knowing how to avoid potential problems can make the school year safe and rewarding for everyone.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What can I do if there are errors on my background check I gave to a student exchange program?
  • Can I sue the school or the coach if my child is hurt at school?
  • What should I do if I think my child's teacher is texting or communicating with my child about matters unrelated to school?
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