Letters to the Editor for April 1, 2014

Students can confide in school staff

I am writing in response to the March 25, article titled “District clarifies boundaries between students, staff.” We appreciate the work done by the Camas-Washougal Post-Record to keep the community informed of work being done in the school district. The Washougal School District has been engaged in a major update of every school board policy, bringing all 298 of them into compliance with new laws, legal guidance, and renumbering them to match those in use in other districts. We are working with the Washington State School Director’s Association to review all policies, and our Board of Directors is adopting policies as recommended by WSSDA.

The Post-Record article this week about policy 5253 regarding appropriate staff/student boundaries indicates that it is unacceptable to allow a student to confide any sort of personal struggle to a staff member. This is not what is found in the policy.

The policy states that staff may hear concerns such as family problems and/or relationships confided by a student who initiates the communication with a staff member. It goes on to state that the staff member is expected to communicate with a counselor or member of the counseling staff to seek help for the student with the personal issues that are going on.

As superintendent, it is extremely important to me that our students know that they can bring their problems to any staff member they trust and depend on, and that the staff member knows what they need to do to help the student get the help and support that they need.

This same policy has been adopted by several of our neighboring school districts, including Camas, Evergreen and Vancouver. It is intended to balance the need for staff and students to work in a caring and supportive environment, and to still have clear rules about what constitutes a boundary invasion. Providing these clear rules help teachers maintain healthy, trusting relationships with students in ways that support the needs of students, but do not jeopardize the teacher’s reputation by creating the appearance of impropriety.

I believe that teachers and staff work in very difficult times. Horrible breaches of appropriate boundaries are covered by the media regularly. At the same time, so many students are in need of the attention and support of educators as they deal with serious personal problems that keep them from being able to learn at school.

Patrons who have questions about any board policy are welcome to visit our website, where copies of all board adopted policies may be found. If patrons have questions after reviewing the policies, district staff would welcome the opportunity to explain the rules the district has adopted.

Dawn Tarzian, superintendent, Washougal School District

Article raises concerns

One of the key responsibilities we hold as Washougal School Board Directors is to establish the policies that will guide the work of the school district. The policies often cover rules and requirements that are articulated in state and federal Laws. The policies ensure that our staff know the obligations and responsibilities that are required of them as employees of the school district.

In meeting this goal, we rely heavily on the support of the Washington State School Directors Association. This state level association drafts policy for the state’s school districts, each of which lists any statutory reference that guides the draft. Local districts can revise these policies to meet local needs.

The article published in the March 25, Post-Record titled “District clarifies boundaries between students, staff,” covers our recent adoption of “Board Policy 5253 Maintaining Professional Staff/Student Boundaries.” This policy can be found on the district website and each staff member was provided a copy this fall in our staff policy handbook. It is not a new policy.

As written, the article has lead to concern regarding whether or not students in the Washougal School District can talk with their teacher about personal struggles they are dealing with. This policy allows students to initiate discussions with staff members where they might confide their personal or family problems and/or relationships. It further expects that the staff member will then refer the student to the guidance/counseling staff for help in addressing the issue and getting the student support.

The Post-Record article also covers the employment of a student by staff members, using babysitting as the example. As outlined in the article, staff may employ students in their home if they have a relationship with the student or their parent beyond their role in our district. A student can be hired if they are a relative, a neighbor, if the parents of the student are friends with the staff member who seeks to employee the student, if they attend the same church, etc. Staff members are to notify their administrator in writing before inviting or allowing individual students to visit the staff member’s home to prevent the appearance of impropriety.

This policy is written to help protect our students from boundary invasions that could put their welfare in jeopardy. It is also written to keep our staff protected from false accusations of inappropriate interactions with students. We take very seriously our responsibility to address both adopting district policy and reviewing the procedures written to implement them. We appreciate the Post-Record’s interest in keeping our community informed of the important work going on in the district and hope to correct any misunderstandings that have occurred.

Washougal School District Board of Directors

Blaine Peterson, president