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N.H. Wrestles With a Draft Ethics Code for Teachers

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A proposed code of ethics for New Hampshire teachers--nearly two years in the making--is nearing completion, despite concerns that it could lead to violations of teachers' rights.

The code, set to come before the public at a hearing in March, lists teachers' responsibilities to individual students, the public, parents, and the profession. Its authors say it would provide broad legal guidelines for teachers and school boards in certification and contract-renewal cases.

"It appeared to me that there was very little guidance regarding the standard of conduct expected of teachers," Ovide Lamontagne, the chairman of the state school board, said last week.Though it does not specify any punishments for violations, the proposed code spells out expectations for teacher conduct in several areas.

It would require them, for example, to report symptoms of child abuse and neglect and to refrain from using school resources for private gain, such as promoting a political candidate. It would also direct teachers to discuss policy disagreements "with appropriate persons" and to "respond constructively."

Yet the head of the state affiliate of the National Education Association fears the proposed code is too vague. Fred Place, the president of the 11,000-member nea-New Hampshire, said it could be used to strip teachers of their certification. "It's not a code of ethics, it's a code of control," he said.

For example, Mr. Place said, a provision in the proposed code directs teachers to "avoid conduct offensive to the dignity, decency, and morality of the profession."

"If I were a teacher who was pro-life, I picketed in front of a health clinic, and I was arrested because I got too close," he asked, "does that mean that I've committed an act which is offensive to the morality of the profession?"

Mr. Lamontagne said the union had ample opportunity to make its views known during the drafting of the proposed code.

But Mr. Place said the union should have had a seat on the panel that compiled the draft.

Need for 'Anchors'

New Hampshire's proposed code would bring the state in line with other states that have set ethical guidelines for teachers.

"Everyone is saying, with violence with the kids, everything is spiraling out of control," said Christine Yanco, an elementary school teacher who chaired the committee that drafted the code. "You have to start putting in some anchors someplace."

Alexander Blastos, the administrator of the state education department's bureau of credentialing, said the panel reviewed teacher codes from other states, including Florida, Idaho, Massachusetts, and South Dakota.

Although the nea and the American Federation of Teachers each has its own codes of ethics, Mr. Lamontagne argued that those codes would apply only to members of those unions and would not have the statewide force of law that the New Hampshire policy would carry.

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