Schools' rule on staff, student ties criticized Parents call it flawed, ask quick notification of any accusations

February 13, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

A rule that forbids nonprofessional relationships between students and school staff members has one major flaw, a group of parents told the Carroll County Board of Education yesterday. It denies them an absolute right to be informed of any accusation involving their children.

The parents' concern grew from a series of incidents in 1995 at Liberty High School. Their remarks caught school officials off guard as they reviewed proposed changes to the policy.

Although the parents identified themselves at the meeting, they asked that their names not be used to protect their daughters' privacy.

The parents, who would not describe the misconduct by the teacher, said their main concern was that the policy be changed so that parents are always notified quickly of any problems.

The incidents apparently did not result in criminal charges, and school and police officials declined to comment on the 1995 case, or whether any staff member was disciplined.

Superintendent Brian Lockard said only that he believes administrators acted appropriately.

But the mother of one girl said she found out about the incident eight months after it occurred, when an investigator for the Carroll County state's attorney's office came to her home.

"I want to be able to give my child emotional support and guidance," the mother said. "I don't want any agency or the Carroll County school system to take that privilege away from me."

The mother of another girl said her daughter was unwittingly involved because of a case of mistaken identity and was the subject of school gossip and false accusations for months before the matter was fully investigated.

Both women said that until these issues arose, they had had good rapport with the schools.

"I have volunteered for 15 years at least one day a week in my children's schools," the first mother said. "I never thought I'd be here."

Although the additions to the policy were a planned part of the school board meeting, the parents' remarks were not.

They said they went public with their concerns because the policy additions are inadequate.

After the board meeting, school administrators hurriedly arranged a news briefing with investigators from the Child Abuse and Sexual Assault unit of the state police and Carroll state's attorney's office.

Proposed additions to the relationship regulations, which are in the school personnel handbook, say, "When relationships are inappropriate, parents of the student should be contacted as soon as practicable or legally possible."

But in some cases, said school board attorney Edmund O'Meally, a parent might not be notified immediately, or ever, because:

Employee confidentiality prevents school administrators from telling parents about disciplinary actions that fall short of criminal charges.

The law enforcement agency investigating tells the schools not to talk to parents or anyone else, in case it could jeopardize the investigation.

Investigators are usually the ones to contact parents, and usually do so within 24 hours, except in cases where the student is 18 or older.

Investigators determine no misconduct occurred, in which case the schools might not notify parents.

The school regulations on staff-student relationships were expanded a few years ago, after a series of charges against teachers in Anne Arundel County sparked public attention.

The regulations go beyond criminal behavior and include prohibiting staff from any social or personal contact, such as meeting a student for a movie after school hours, O'Meally said.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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