District clarifies boundaries between students, staff

Superintendent wants to give 'clear direction'

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In an effort to increase awareness, the Washougal School District has clarified, in detail, what constitutes acceptable behavior between students and staff.

Some of the document is fairly standard, such as refraining from inappropriate physical conduct, showing pornography to a student or making jokes of a sexual nature.

However, other portions of it may come as a surprise to some: For example, it is not acceptable to employ a student, such as having them baby-sit any staff member’s children.

A “student” is defined as any individual enrolled in the district and former students younger than 18.

There is an exception to the employment section if the student is also a relative or the parents know the staff member outside of the school setting.

“This is a starting point for staff to adjust their practices to fit the policy,” said Dawn Tarzian, superintendent. “We tried to give clear direction to staff about employing students, but also understand there are some exceptions.”

Tarzian added that in the past five years, there has been a shift in what is considered acceptable.

“In part, it is due to court cases,” she said. “But the primary motive is to keep the boundaries appropriate. We have wonderful events that put staff and students together outside of a school setting. We just don’t want that happening one-on-one and giving the appearance of impropriety.”

Another portion of the policy dictates that school staff may listen concerns, such as those involving family problems and/or relationships, confided by a student who initiates the communication. The staff member is then expected to communicate with a counselor or member of the counseling staff, so that the student can receive help to deal with those personal issues.

Blaine Peterson, board chair, asked if there was a provision in the policy that covered if a teacher was making a student feel uncomfortable.

Tarzian mentioned that as public employees, staff members are required to stop any behavior that is considered harassing. However, what “harassment” is may be harder to define in some cases.

“At our elementary schools, we have kids throwing their arms around staff members every day,” she said. “To tell our teachers that you can’t touch kids under any circumstance robs a healthy part of that relationship. But our attempts to warmly encourage a child with a pat on the back could be perceived very differently depending on what they have been through.”

Staff members will receive training on the new procedures during back to school events this August.