Teachers in Louisiana must now think twice before sending a text message or e-mail to a student from a personal electronic device.
A new state law requires all Louisiana districts to implement policies requiring documentation of every electronic interaction between teachers and students through a nonschool-issued device, such as a personal cellphone or e-mail account. Parents also have the option of forbidding any communication between teachers and their child through personal electronic devices.
Similar policies exist in many school districts across the country, and at least one other state has considered such legislation in recent years. But critics question the measures, saying they will likely restrict appropriate communication between teachers and students and discourage the use of new technologies.
Determining what communications between teachers and students are appropriate, especially in the emerging fields of electronic devices and social-networking Web sites, is an issue that districts nationwide are navigating, with policies ranging from fairly permissive to more restrictive.
“We’re at a point where [policies on this issue] are all over the map,” says Ann Flynn, the director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, based in Alexandria, Va.
Unlike in Louisiana, such policies typically are determined locally, rather than at the state level, although similar legislation has appeared in the Missouri legislature, at least, but not been enacted.
Louisiana Rep. Walker Hines, a Democrat, voted against the bill in his state. “I did not believe that this legislation would deter any teacher from having a sexual relationship with a student,” he says. “In fact, I believe this legislation could have a major chilling effect on teachers’ becoming mentors for students.”
Ray Bernard, the child-welfare supervisor for the 15,000-student Lafourche Parish, La., public school system, believes the law provides enough flexibility to both protect students and keep legitimate teacher-student relationships intact.
The policy that his district will implement says that teachers, and all other school employees, must document any interaction through nonschool-issued electronic devices that happens with a student in that district, or any other district in the state, within 24 hours of the exchange.