Banning Teacher-Student Dating

May 09, 1994

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education should not be afraid of appearing a little prudish as it fine-tunes a policy against dating between students and school employees. The teachers' union wants some exceptions to the blanket prohibition described in the draft, but the board should beware of diluting the principle behind this policy: the relationship between employees and students of all ages should be educational.

The draft is modeled on Carroll County's new anti-dating policy, which bans dating or sexual interaction between school employees and students, including those in adult education programs, regardless of age. As written, the Anne Arundel policy would apply to volunteers as well.

The union feels this is too broad. Adult education should be exempted, it says, and provisions made for unusual situations, such as a high school senior who's dating a junior, then graduates, gets a job as a school janitor and wants to keep seeing his girlfriend. The most far-fetched concern is that students who volunteer in school to fulfill community service credits would fall under the volunteer clause.

This is not the board's intent, no more than banning students from dating pupils they tutor in study hall. Confusion over student volunteers -- if, there is any -- can be remedied by specifying that adult volunteers cannot date students. Though Carroll did not include volunteers in its policy, it now says it should have. Most school volunteers serve in a mentoring capacity; the system's responsibility to prevent them from exploiting that role is no less than if they were paid.

As far as adult education, the issue is not age but the fact that teachers, like doctors and ministers, occupy a position of authority and demand a certain degree of vulnerability from their charges. Once the teacher-student relationship is terminated, what two adults do is their business. But the relationship itself should not be tainted by social or sexual interests. That is why many universities bar adult students from dating professors.

Perhaps, to provide for that rare, harmless case like the newly graduated janitor and his girlfriend, the policy should include a clause that exceptions to the ban can be approved by the superintendent. By and large, however, the broad prohibitions of the draft policy should stand.

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