Kentucky working to eliminate inappropriate teacher-student relationships

Fayette County Public Schools central offices at 701 East Main Street, Lexington.
Fayette County Public Schools central offices at 701 East Main Street, Lexington.

A task force recently released recommendations aimed at preventing inappropriate relationships between teachers and students in Kentucky, which in the last three years had between 25 and 40 such cases a year, according to Education Professional Standards Board officials.

Former U.S. Department of Education official Terry Abbott, who conducted a national study about inappropriate relationships, found that based on media reports, Kentucky in 2014 had the second highest per-capita rate in the country of inappropriate relationships.

“The work of the task force was to look at ways to prevent inappropriate student-educator relationships,” Jimmy Adams, executive director of the Educational Professional Standards Board, told the Herald-Leader last week.

Adams said there were 26 cases in Kentucky in 2015, based on media reports. That’s down from the 37 cases reported in the media in 2014 and 38 cases in 2013.

The cases can involve sexual contact, but not always. They can also involve private messages delivered through social media and text messaging.

The Education Professional Standards Board chartered the Combating Inappropriate Student-Teacher Relationships Task Force in June 2015. The task force’s objective was to develop and recommend to the Education Professional Standards Board policies and procedures that could work toward preventing inappropriate student-educator relationships.

The task force found that the current state educator code of ethics is vague and difficult to interpret and apply to teachers and teacher candidates.

There is a recommendation to review and consider revising the state code of ethics to include clear boundaries and definitions by this fall.

Another recommendation says the Kentucky Department of Education should use the revised state educator code of ethics to develop regulations that would support school districts in disciplining educators for a violation.

Among other task force recommendations:

▪ Educator preparation programs at universities and colleges should develop training based on the revised code.

▪ The Kentucky School Boards Association and the Kentucky Education Association are among the groups that should develop a model code of conduct that school districts can review for adoption. The code should cover certified staff; classified staff, such as support staff; volunteers, students and others in a school setting.

▪ By 2016-17, education groups in Kentucky should develop a model policy and procedures for appropriate student-school staff interactions, including classroom, extra-curricular, and electronic communication and actions to be taken if violations occur.

▪ The Kentucky Department of Education should develop a model student code of rights and appropriate boundaries that districts could add to their student codes of conduct by the 2017-2018 school year.

▪ The Kentucky Department of Education should develop and pilot a research-based curriculum to help students understand the concept of appropriate boundaries in the 2016-2017 school year and implement it in the 2017-2018 school year.

▪ School districts, the Kentucky Department of Education, and the state PTA should provide for parents and guardians by fall 2016 a concise list of expectations for school staff when communicating and interacting with students, including electronic communications.

▪ The Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the PTA should by this fall provide resources for parents and guardians to use with their children about how to discuss appropriate and inappropriate interactions with school staff.

▪ School districts, the PTA and the Center for School Safety, should by this fall provide resources and information for parents and guardians on what they need to know about their students’ activity on social media.

Adams said the recommendations from the task force involve training and resources for students, parent/guardians, teachers in training and educators. He said it’s up to various agencies and organizations to accept and implement the recommendations.

“We appreciate the work of the task force. We are in the process of reviewing the report and its recommendations,” said Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.

Brad Hughes, a spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said their executive director Mark Armstrong was on the task force. Hughes said Adams was going to meet with his group and others to talk about the recommendations. Hughes said his group had started work on a model policy and would work in earnest after meeting with Adams.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears