OS School District sets boundaries for student/teacher relationships

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Technology these days has changed the way teachers talk with their students. Conversations don't always occur in person and on campus.

"Nowadays, with all the electronic forms of communication, you can be at home and you can email and you can text. You can Facebook, MySpace," said Deborah Fremin, Assistant Superintendent of Personnel for the Ocean Springs School District.

For years, many schools have followed the National Code of Ethics for Educators. And this year, the Mississippi Legislature also passed a Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct for teachers.

But the Ocean Springs School District wants to take it a step further by adopting a policy that sets some strict guidelines when it comes to social networking and teacher-student relationships.

"At the state level in Mississippi, they are starting to see more and more infractions of this nature with inappropriate relationships between teachers and students," said Fremin. "We need to make sure that when they're communicating with students, when they are using email, it's about the curriculum, talking about assignments, and that's where the boundaries are."

For instance, based on the proposed policy, texting would be banned and teachers would not be allowed to participate in any student blogs.

"So we have to spell out, even though you're not face-to-face with a student, you have to avoid socializing with our students because you are a teacher," said Fremin. "Being fair and equitable. Teachers are supposed to treat students as students, and they're not supposed to involve themselves in the personal exchange of gifts or to grade unfairly."

The Ocean Springs School Board is on the verge of adopting the new policy. It comes just two weeks after Ocean Springs Middle School teacher and coach Grady Brown was arrested on sex charges involving a student. District leaders said they've actually been working on this policy since the beginning of the school year.

"Unfortunately, we had a situation that coincidentally occurred about the same time that we decided to adopt our new policy and hopefully, this will better spell out for our employees in the future to avoid these kinds of situations," Fremin said.

District leaders said they remind teachers at the start of every school year about proper conduct and acceptable use of technology. They said the new policy will serve as a reminder so teachers understand their expectations.

"So this is one more way we can protect our students," said Fremin.

The Ocean Springs School Board is expected to adopt the proposed policy at its June meeting. Teachers who violate the policy could face suspension or even termination.

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