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Quaker Valley seeks to update teacher/student relationship policy

| Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, 6:57 p.m.

Quaker Valley leaders say a policy change is meant to help professional adults maintain proper boundaries with students.

The policy is a priority because “its goal is the safety of our students, first and foremost,” said board member Jon Kuzma, chairman of Quaker Valley's policy committee.

Kuzma said common sense is embedded in the draft document that gives guidelines for teachers, coaches and volunteers on how to avoid putting themselves in compromising positions and how to engage appropriately with students.

Superintendent Heidi Ondek said the policy stems from a discussion board members had related to current events at schools in the region.

“This warranted, we think, the need for policy that addresses communication, interactions, and the expectations of adults interacting with students,” Ondek said.

In Plum, where three teachers are accused of having sex with students, board members approved a similar policy.

Quaker Valley is among a number of districts updating policies to deter inappropriate contact between students and teachers as recommended by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

District officials are looking particularly at technology and the use of social networks, and other ways of communications between adults and students.

Board President Sarah Heres said the policy could be an opportunity to get input from teachers and coaches who would need to follow what board members ultimately approve.

Board member Gianni Floro said communications should be between coaches and parents — not students.

“Students cannot consent to any sort of relationship,” Floro said. “They're our responsibility.”

Ondek said it also is never the responsibility of a student who is the victim of inappropriate conduct to be compelled to report, but the district gives them many opportunities, whether they observe something or they themselves are the recipient of inappropriate interactions.

She said the district has a tip line and other mechanisms, such as seeing a counselor, talking to the principal or a teacher.

She said the policy will have major implications for the student code of conduct as well as staff employee handbooks.

“There's some work involved once this policy is passed,” Ondek said.

Kuzma said work will continue on the policy and the content can be re-evaluated in February.

Larissa Dudkiewicz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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