What are Good Fences?

What are Good Fences?“Good Fences make good neighbors,” said Robert Frost.  Mr. Frost was correct.  Good fences not only make good neighbors, but also make an educational system of trust between parents, teachers and children.

There is a famous poem by Joseph Malins called, “An Ambulance Down in the Valley”.  It speaks of society’s tendency to ignore preventative measure that could save people’s lives and instead only deal with trying to see to the wounds once they have fallen. This is what our educational system has done for too long.  We are uncomfortable with the teacher who seems to have an inappropriate relationship with a student, or who is found alone with students behind locked doors, but feel that nothing will be done if we report such behavior.  We debate about the appropriate consequences when a person of trust has abused our children…but we do nothing to erect barriers that keep our students and people of trust far away from the cliff.

The old adage is true, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  And though abuse such as happened to me is not unique, I firmly believe that trust in our school system can be restored if a few simple common-sense rules are put in place in our schools and strictly enforced, creating the “good fences” that we so desperately need.

These steps don’t guarantee an end to all sexual abuse in schools, but go a long way toward stopping predators from being able to groom students into become one of their victims.  These rules also help protect teachers from being falsely accused of inappropriate behavior with a student.

1.  There is never any reason for an educator and a student to be alone behind locked doors.

  • As a licensed public school teacher myself, I understand that avoiding being alone with a student is easier said than done.  On a daily basis, there are students who need to make up missed work, request help with a subject, or just want to come in to say, “Hi!”  Of course, we want our teachers to give our students the one-on-one attention that they need in order to succeed and there are simple steps we can take to create an atmosphere of transparency in those situations.
    • When students must be in a room alone with an adult, the door should always remain unlocked and ideally, could remain propped open. Also, it’s a good idea to have students bring a friend into the classroom to wait for them while seeking help.
    • It is best if classroom doors have windows in them.  Teachers must not cover these windows with paper, as often happens now.  If students in the hallway cause distractions in the classroom, the administration must enforce swift and consistent consequences to curb this behavior.
    • Educators should not be giving students rides to and from school or school events.  In the situation involving school field trips, if a teacher is driving students, they should make sure they are never left alone with a student in the vehicle.  It may be necessary to have another adult in the vehicle until all of the students are gone.

2.  Teachers/Administrators and students should not have private, personal contact outside of school.

  • Texts, emails or other messages that are sent to students outside of school should be limited to necessary school information, and should be sent to parents/guardians as well.
  • There is no reason for teachers and students to be “friends” on social media sites or to be hanging out in private situations.

These two simple guidelines would help stop sexual predators from being able to “groom” students into being easy victims and it would provide protection for good educators who fear  false accusations of inappropriate behavior.

Though many school districts have policies such as these, many do not.  And if they do, [1]studies done by our own Utah Board of Education show that there is no consistency in follow-through. [2][3]National studies show that reporting practices are almost laughable.

We must have consistent rules and regulations regarding reporting, investigating and disciplinary actions in our schools.  And until these rules and regulations are consistent throughout our state, predators will continue to move from district to district with no trail of evidence to follow them.  I believe in keeping our children safe.  I believe in protecting good teachers from false accusations.  I believe in Good Fences.

[1] Utah Professional Conduct Report 2011 http://www.schools.utah.gov/uppac/UPPAC-Home/ProfessionalConductReport.aspx

[2] Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature, 2004, Charol Shakeshaft https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf

[3] Educator Sexual Abuse, Charol Shakeshaft http://www.hofstra.edu/pdf/ORSP_Shakeshaft_Spring03.pdf

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