School district rolls out training on student-teacher relationships

Mon, Feb 5, 2018 (2 a.m.)

The Clark County School District is introducing mandatory training on appropriate student-teacher relationships during a school year when there have been five sex-related arrests of CCSD employees.

There were 13 of such arrests last school year, according to the district, and a large number of cases have involved students and teachers communicating electronically. School Board members approved a policy on Sept. 28, drafted with stakeholder input, outlining appropriate employee-student relationships and communicating outside the classroom.

CCSD is now offering training on the policy as well as a new fingerprinting requirement for volunteers, and giving students tools to communicate with their teachers. Employees are required to watch the video by March 23.

“We know that kids do better in the classroom when they feel like they have a trusting relationship with their teacher or with their coach,” district spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said. “Kids want to connect with the adults around them, so what this policy and regulation aims to do is to help our employees and volunteers connect with our students in an appropriate and meaningful way while also setting boundaries.”

Separate educational videos were made for employees, coaches, volunteers, parents and students — with an additional option for sixth-graders and older. Searer said it’s important to include students in the training as the district increasingly explores educating kids on digital citizenship, in an effort to keep them safe from bullying and strangers online. The tutorials for staff and parents will go over the new requirement for fingerprinting volunteers.

“The vast majority of our employees are dedicated professionals who care deeply for the safety of our students,” Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said in a statement. “These videos will help our employees, coaches and volunteers set appropriate boundaries that protect them as well as students.”

The policy also requires that all communications between students and teachers outside the classroom take place on “loggable” platforms, which create a record of the conversations. A Valley High School English teacher who was arrested in January 2016 on suspicion of kissing a special education student was found to have exchanged over 13,000 text messages with the student. In March 2016, a Harney Middle School teacher was arrested on suspicion of engaging in similar behavior.

The district is also setting up a matrix to ensure other communication programs are in compliance with the regulation.

“That’s for the protection of our employees as well as for our students because if there ever is a concern we can quickly go back and reference the communication,” Searer said. “We’ve been encouraging employees as much as possible to use the whole Google classroom portfolio and, which are probably the two most common methods of communication that our employees use for students and they are loggable.”

A Legacy High School teacher was arrested in 2016 on suspicion of having sex with a student, and a Legacy High School substitute teacher and football coach was arrested in January 2017 on a charge of inappropriate sexual contact with a student. A Brown Middle School teacher was arrested in March 2017 after being accused of indecency toward minors.

This year, arrests hit West Career and Technical Academy and Ira J. Earl Elementary School, among others.

Searer said the group of stakeholders that provided input on the policy discussed these instances when adult-child relationships crossed a line. They also sought out information from a growing number of experts on this national issue, Searer said.

“This committee talked a lot about the cases that we had seen last year and what were the common denominators,” she said. “They also talked about best practices we’ve seen from other districts. We reviewed policies from some of our peer districts like L.A. and New York. They already had electronic communication policies in place.”

Fingerprinting for volunteers was approved through Senate Bill 287, sponsored by Sen. Heidi Gansert, R-Reno. The bill received unanimous support in the 2017 Legislature before Gov. Brian Sandoval signed it into law. Searer said she’s not aware of any cases of misconduct involving volunteers, but that about a handful of volunteer applications have been denied as a result of the background check requirement.

“We’re applying the same standard that we do for our employees,” Searer said. “Basically no major felonies, no sex crimes of any kind and no crimes against kids of any kind.”

The requirement creates a $60 barrier for parents who want to help at their child’s school. Searer said some potential volunteers have been unable to afford the fee for the background check, and that officials are discussing using donations or approaching the Legislature for a solution.

Every principal and department head is responsible for holding viewings of the videos and having employees sign a form saying they understood the content. These forms will be put into personnel files. The district is aiming for March 23 to complete viewings for employees, students and coaches, though Searer said it may take longer to ensure the large number of bus drivers have also seen the video. Parents were sent a link to their video to watch on their own, Searer said.

“There is a possibility that some students might not see the video if they’re absent that day, but we will ensure that every employee watches the video before March 23,” Searer said.

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