BRIDGEWATER — “Boundaries” between teachers and students have officially been set in Rockingham County Schools.
A unanimous vote by the Rockingham County School Board Monday means the parameters defining appropriate interactions between students and teachers are now in effect.
“I feel that it is a good, sound policy that helps protect children but also allows teachers to do what they are so good at, which is building relationships with kids,” Assistant Superintendent of Administration Doug Alderfer said by phone Tuesday.
Since being introduced in October, the proposed policy had undergone a couple of revisions after concerns were raised, mostly by teachers, over some of the draft language.
Most recently, administrators sent the policy to 100 more teachers and administrators to seek input. Alderfer, who presented the policy at Monday’s meeting, said the division made additional changes based on the feedback.
Changes included removing wording that prohibited staff from “exchanging personal gifts, cards or letters with a student (beyond customary, modest student-teacher gifts).”
“There were situations in which it would be appropriate where a teacher or a staff member may want to give a generous gift,” said Alderfer, who specifically cited Christmas programs where teachers can donate to help needy children.
“Our concern was by putting [that item] into the policy some people may change their behavior and not do things that are in the best interest of students,” Alderfer said Tuesday.
The policy was created in response to a document released by the Virginia Board of Education meant to help school divisions craft guidelines to deter inappropriate teacher-student relationships.
Legislation approved in the 2008 General Assembly requires divisions to have policies and procedures in place to prevent sexual abuse of students by school employees.
When the division released an original draft of its policy in October, it was met with some concern by educators, who thought some sections might limit teachers’ mentoring roles. A section prohibiting students and staff from calling each other nicknames was nixed, as was one barring a teacher or other staff member from talking to a student about personal or family problems.
“This policy is now in pretty good shape,” Alderfer said. “The majority of people … liked [the policy], they appreciated the changes [and] they felt more comfortable with [it].”
School Board member John Myers said the document was never meant to be limiting or deter mentoring relationships.
“It doesn’t mean we want to limit contact with students,” Myers said. “We want to continue to do all we can to reach [them].”
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or firstname.lastname@example.org