Maintaining Professional Staff/Student Boundaries
Educators, volunteers, students, parents, and other concerned adults are instrumental in stopping unprofessional conduct against students. Hence, the following information will help you to help protect students, your school, and the profession.
Often times, when educators or volunteers who cross the line of professional boundaries, they do not do so consciously. Instead, they allow themselves to develop a special relationship with a student that results in situations where their professionalism is compromised. Sometimes, this leads to misconduct. All of this can be prevented by maintaining professional boundaries with students.
All school staff members or volunteers must promptly notify the supervisor of a staff member or volunteer suspected of engaging in a boundary invasion toward a student.
Staff members must:
- Not wait before reporting suspicious behavior or try to determine whether there is an innocent explanation;
- Not confront or discuss the matter with the staff member at issue or with anyone else, but maintain confidentiality to protect privacy and avoid rumors; and
- Document for their own records, that they notified an administrator, including to whom and what they reported
Students and their parents/guardians must notify the principal (or other administrator) if they believe a staff member or volunteer may be engaging in inappropriate boundary invasion conduct with a student.
A boundary invasion is an act or pattern of behavior by a staff member or volunteer that does not have a bona fide health, safety, or educational purpose for the student. Such situations are the opposite of maintaining professional boundaries with students. Staff members and volunteers shall not engage in boundary invasions of students, which include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Any type of inappropriate physical or sexual conduct with a student or any other conduct that violates the board’s policies regarding student welfare, the educational environment, or conduct toward current or former students. Inappropriate physical conduct includes hugging, kissing, or being “overly touchy” with students without any legitimate educational, health or safety purpose;
- Showing intimate or unduly revealing photos to a student or asking a student to provide intimate or unduly revealing photos; taking inappropriate photographs of a student, or taking an inordinate number of photographs of a student.
- Any kind of flirtatious or sexual communications with a student;
- Singling out a particular student or students for personal attention and friendship beyond the professional staff/student relationship. This includes, but is not limited to, favoring one or more students with special privileges, allowing them to remain in the classroom during non-class times, removing a student from another class or activity, or engaging in “peer like” behavior with one or more students;
- Providing alcohol, drugs, vaping products, or tobacco to students or failing to report their direct knowledge of use of these substances;
- For non-guidance/counseling staff, allowing or encouraging students to confide their personal or family problems and/or relationships. If a student initiates such discussions, staff members shall refer the student to appropriate guidance/counseling staff. In either case, staff involvement should be limited to a direct connection to the student’s school performance;
- Sending students on personal errands unrelated to any educational purpose;
- Banter, allusions, jokes, or innuendos of a sexual nature with students;
- Commenting on a student’s appearance if the comments have no educational value or purpose;
- Disclosing personal, sexual, family, employment concerns or other private matters to one or more students;
- Addressing students or permitting students to address staff members or volunteers with personalized terms of endearment, pet names, or otherwise in an overly familiar manner;
- Maintaining personal contact (including “friending” or “following”) a student on any social networking application or device;
- Using phone, e-mail, text, instant messenger, Zoom or other forms of written or electronic communication to communicate with students when the communication is unrelated to school work or other legitimate school business. If staff members have educational or legitimate school business to conduct, they should include a parent/guardian and a school administrator on the communication. If staff members receive a student’s communication, the staff member shall reply by including the student’s parent/guardian and an administrator. Staff members should use school e-mail addresses and phone numbers and also include the parents’ phone numbers and e-mail addresses for communications with students, except in an emergency situation;
- Exchanging or providing personal gifts, cards, or personal letters with an individual student;
- Socializing or spending time with students (including but not limited to activities such as going out for beverages, meals or movies, shopping, traveling and recreational activities) outside of school-sponsored events, except as participants in organized community activities;
- Giving a student a ride alone in a vehicle in a non-emergency situation or failing to timely report that occurrence;
- Providing a student with information or views about other students or staff members without a legitimate professional purpose;
- Asking a student to keep a secret or not to disclose any inappropriate communications or conduct;
- Unnecessarily invading a student’s privacy;
- Being alone with an individual student out of the view of others unless educationally necessary and unavoidable; and/or
- Any home visits unless other adults are present, the student(s) are invited for an activity related to school, and the student’s parent/guardian and an administrator are informed and have consented.
Investigation and Documentation
When an administrator receives information that a boundary invasion has occurred or might have occurred, the administrator must document, in writing, the concern and provide a copy of the documentation to the District’s Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources. The Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources will see that the matter is investigated and documented, and if a boundary invasions have occurred without a legitimate educational, health or safety purpose, that appropriate action is taken and documented. The Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources will maintain a file documenting reports, letters of direction, and discipline relating to professional boundary investigations.
Reminder About Reporting Sexual Abuse
In some situations, the person engaging in boundary invasions with a student may also have engaged in child abuse or sexual abuse, which is defined in Board Policy 3421 - Child Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation Prevention. Remember that according to law (RCW 26.44.020) and Board Policy 3421, all school personnel who have reasonable cause to believe that a student has experienced sexual abuse by an adult or student are required to make a report to Child Protective Services and/or law enforcement. (See Board Policy 3421.) Reporting suspected abuse to the building principal or supervisor does not relieve professional school personnel from their reporting responsibilities and timelines.
Staff member or volunteer violations of this policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal. Violations of this policy may occur by ignoring professional boundaries as well as failing to report another staff member or volunteer who is ignoring professional boundaries. In any disciplinary situation, the Superintendent should consider whether the conduct violates the Code of Professional Conduct in Chapter WAC 181-87 and whether a report to the Office of Professional Practices is warranted.
All new staff members and volunteers will receive training on appropriate staff/student boundaries within three months of employment or beginning of service. Such initial training may be on-line training. Site administration and classified employee supervisors shall see to it that more detailed, live training covering this entire procedure shall occur every two years for all schools and work sites. Site administration and classified employee supervisors will also address professional boundaries at staff meetings early in the year.
Dissemination of Policy and Reporting Protocols
This policy and procedure will be included on the district website and in all employee, student, and volunteer handbooks. Annually, all administrators and staff will receive copies of the district’s reporting protocol. The district shall also provide a copy of this policy and procedure to students and their parents during each school year.
Initially Adopted: February 13, 2012
Amended: March 24, 2015
Amended: March 14, 2016
Amended: December 14, 2020