Texting students, telling them dirty jokes and getting “overly touchy” with them would be prohibited under a proposed Millard Public Schools policy aimed at preventing staff from getting too chummy with students.

The new policy for Nebraska’s third-largest school district would require all employees to “observe and maintain professional boundaries.”

Violating the policy would be considered grounds for discipline.

Millard School Board President Mike Pate said the policy takes aim at one-on-one communication.

Social media have made it easy do something inappropriate, Pate said.

“It’s too easy today for that line to get crossed, and most of the time unintentionally,” he said. “This just helps to define what is appropriate and what’s not appropriate.”

Officials said the policy would formalize some practices already observed in the district. Teachers already must abide by a code of conduct, though it’s not as detailed.

While texting would be prohibited — which could inconvenience some coaches, administrators and club sponsors — the district will provide a communication app that will allow for similar real-time messaging via email and smart devices. The app called Remind will launch this summer. Messages sent on it would be archived for administrators to retrieve.

“We feel like this is a powerful tool that is going to enhance communication,” Superintendent Jim Sutfin said.

Board member Linda Poole, a teacher, said the policy would be “very beneficial.”

“You know what the boundaries are,” Poole said.

It would prohibit giving a student personal gifts, addressing each other with pet names, visiting a student’s home when parents are gone and any “grooming” behaviors meant to win a student’s affection.

Sex with a student or former student would be prohibited until a year after the student graduates — meant to ensure that a teacher could still face discipline for a sexual relationship that took place soon after a student left the district.

Millard staff and teachers who suspect that another employee has violated the policy would be required to immediately tell a supervisor.

Although teachers getting too cozy with students is not a new phenomenon, social media have made it easier for teachers to directly send messages and photos to students without parents knowing.

In the past three years, the Millard district dismissed a counselor and an assistant principal for alleged improper contact with students.

But Pate said no specific incident prompted the policy.

In February, Millard school board members canceled the contract of Matthew Fedde, a Millard South High assistant principal, after he was charged with having sex with a 15-year-old student.

The former principal faces two counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child.

In 2016, a Millard counselor was reprimanded by Nebraska Commissioner of Education Matt Blomstedt for “violating the standards of professional conduct and ethics.”

The reprimand letter stated that the female counselor inappropriately interacted with the student, including pulling her from classrooms and allowing her to visit her office in an unofficial capacity.

The former counselor is suing the district, claiming that she was singled out and forced out of her job because of her sexual orientation.

Other districts have been clarifying the boundary between teachers and students.

In 2016, the Westside Community Schools adopted a policy that addresses a range of behaviors, not just obviously unlawful acts.

The Westside policy targets “precursor grooming and other boundary-blurring behaviors that can lead to more egregious misconduct.” Among the actions prohibited: disclosing personal, sexual or family concerns to students or touching students without a legitimate educational reason. The policy stipulates that district emails are the preferred electronic communication with students and must be for legitimate reasons. Westside allows limited texting.

It also has a reporting requirement when violations are suspected.

The Omaha Public Schools addressed some of the same concerns in a 2017 social media policy.

OPS teachers who use social networking to interact with students must create “groups” or “pages” to interact with students without giving them access to their personal account.

Friending or following students on their personal accounts is prohibited in OPS.

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joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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