Classroom Technology

Sex-Misconduct Cases Renew Concerns About Teacher-Student Texting, ‘Friending’

By Elisha McNeil — April 05, 2016 3 min read
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Amid a recent rise in sexual misconduct cases involving teachers, the Clark County school district in Nevada is looking to implement a policy that restricts digital communication between students and teachers.

An investigation by The Las Vegas Sun of teacher sex abuse cases in the Clark County district from 2005 to 2015 found that about half included private electronic communication between the teacher and the victim—and around 80 percent of cases within the last five years. In addition, of the five teachers arrested on sexual misconduct charges since the investigation, four were found to have privately communicated with students (often voluminously) without the knowledge of their parents.

“Most cases that we work have a tie to social media,” Clark County school district Police Sergeant Mitch Maciszak told the paper. “The technology we battle on a daily basis is ever changing.”

Now, to combat the issue, the district is looking at ways that provide a safer way for students and teachers to communicate.

“CCSD is exploring multiple technology platforms and applications that allow students and teachers to communicate in a setting that protects both the students and staff members from inappropriate and private messaging, while still allowing a means for communicating critical information pertinent to academic achievement,” district spokeswoman Michelle Booth reportedly said in a statement.

The district has yet to offer specifics on how and when it will release a plan.

Over the last few years, states and school districts across the country put in place measures that restrict or ban educators from communicating with students online.

In 2009, Louisiana passed a law that required teachers and all other school employees to document any electronic interaction through nonschool-issued devices between students within 24 hours of exchange. The Dayton, Ohio school district banned teachers from “friending” or adding students on social-networking sites or sending texts or instant messages to students. The Folsom Cordova Unified School District in California adopted a policy that advises teachers to avoid contacting students privately on a social-media site or through text-messaging.

Such policies have met mixed reactions, however. Critics argue that they jeopardize teachers’ ability to use social media tools for legitimate educational purposes and to communicate important information to students.

In 2011, a Missouri law barring private electronic contact between teachers and students was repealed the same year after opponents said it violated First Amendment rights.

Administrators in the McKinney Independent School District in Texas experienced an outcry from teachers, students, and parents after introducing a school policy that banned all electronic teacher-student communication. The feedback included examples of situations where personal electronic exchanges could be a valuable tool for educators. In the end, the district revised the policy to require employees to abide by a “professional code of ethics.”

In place of regular text or online messaging services, many schools have turned to platforms like Remind and Classdojo that facilitate more secure and more visible teacher communications with students and parents. However, it’s not clear how often teachers are restricted to the use of such services.

Photo by Flickr user Mariah Dietzler; licensed under Creative Commons.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.