SWEET HOME — A proposed policy meant to tighten controls on after-hours communication between teachers and students is continuing to prompt free speech concerns in the Sweet Home School District.
Members of the Sweet Home School Board decided Monday to take no action on the third reading of the proposal, which was written and recommended by the Oregon School Boards Association.
They asked Superintendent Don Schrader to draft a district proposal instead that makes it clear all teacher-student communication, whatever form it takes, must be professional and about school-related matters only.
The policy is under consideration by school districts statewide and already approved as written by the Lebanon School Board. It is meant to restrict the use of personal communication devices by teachers while on duty and to discourage contact between teachers and students while using such devices.
Several mid-valley school districts, including Sweet Home, faced heat last year because of police charges involving improper contact between a student and a staff member. Cell phone messages and pictures played a role in most of the cases.
But some Sweet Home board members said the proposed policy is too vague and doesn’t take into account actual communication needs.
Jan Sharp said she didn’t like a section of the policy that states texting students while off duty is “strongly discouraged.” “Is it OK or isn’t it?” she asked.
What happens, she asked, if a student were to text a teacher about an assignment? Should the teacher not respond?
“Is the directive not to text reasonable?” Sharp asked. “We live in a texting world. That’s how they communicate.”
Schrader pointed out he had made some changes to the proposed policy before Monday’s board meeting, including eliminating a definition that had caused concern.
One section of the policy allows staff members to be disciplined if they write a blog, comment on a website or use other social media in any way that causes a school disruption. The policy defined “disruption” to include parents threatening to remove their children from a particular class, along with a “threatened or actual negative impact on the learning environment.”
Eliminating the definition was a good start, Sharp said. “I think it’s kind of unmanageable.”