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School Districts That Don’t Have Policies On Teacher-Student Boundaries Are Paying The Price

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In several cases across San Diego County over the last decade, school districts have paid out millions of dollars as a result of lawsuits from students abused by educators who argued the schools did not have sufficient policies in place to protect them.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 School districts across San Diego County are coming under scrutiny. After settlements were reached in several lawsuits from students abused by educators. Now there's a push to put policies in place that lay out appropriate boundaries between teachers and their students. Kayla Jimenez reported on the story for the voice of San Diego and joins us with more. Kayla, welcome. Hi. So talk to us about the cases that bought to light the absence of these policies. So in our investigation at Voice of San Diego and to sexual misconduct by a predatory teachers and schools, there were a few settlements in different cases that we looked into where teachers were grooming students before abusing them and grooming look like things that could be excused as exemplary teaching. Things like sending text messages of encouragement and giving rides home to and from school or making friends with parents. But those seemingly friendly acts turn sexual. Eventually in this text messages turn into good night messages and the making friends with parents turned into having the parents allow them to drop them off to and from school where those conversations in the car, it's would become intimate and like friendly hug where you're introducing physical acts that aren't necessarily factual, become sexual.

Speaker 1: 01:24 And we thought that and a lot of these cases that we looked at, and those are the kind of teachers, student boundaries that are not in some of the policies that the school districts across thin ego have. And in these cases, attorneys are finding that the school districts didn't have those policies and thing that they failed to warn, train or educate these employees and parents and students about those risks and how those grooming instances can turn into sexual abuse. So it sounds like things were easily escalated to a level of being inappropriate. Um, where did these instances incidents happen? I looked into three cases. There was one at Crawford high with, um, Tony Sutton and she was a volleyball coach and a teacher there. And then marine guy goes, who was a teacher at imperial beach and ROTC substitute teacher and then Jason Mangan mega bill and he was a band director at Bonita Vista High.

Speaker 1: 02:23 In these cases you, you spoke about earlier, there were warning signs prior to the abuse that you mentioned. Uh, things just sort of escalated and in each one of these cases, right? So there were warning signs and they were pointed out to administrators that in each of the cases at one point or another, but those signs that became more of a gray area and the schools don't really have a policy on what is right and wrong. Yeah. So, I mean, how would having a policy that outlined appropriate teacher student boundaries possibly prevent future abuse? Well, I've talked to some experts on this and they have said that having a policy would first be telling educators what is okay to do with students and when it's not okay. And it provides some guidelines to for what is okay, whether you can text the student or whether you can take a student home from school or not.

Speaker 1: 03:13 So can you give me an example of, of what the policies would be [inaudible]. So I have taken a look at a few policies that have been implemented across California. Usually after these settlements come into play in these schools are paying these hefty amounts to those students. There's portions on what kind of elk electronic communications are okay over social media and texting. What kind of policies are okay taking rides home from and to and from school and what kind of communications coaches should have with their students and teachers should have with their students. Sure. So, so no hopping in into the inbox of a student's Facebook page or Instagram or Twitter or something like that. Right. These policies also make reporting warning signs. I'm a priority two, right? Yes. So under the mandated reporting law, teachers are supposed to report any suspected child abuse to authorities, but sometimes teachers aren't sure whether they fee a teacher take a student home from school.

Speaker 1: 04:11 If they are, you should report that, but these policies would make clear that those are things that you need to, the teachers need to be reporting. Is there concern that that these policies could stand in the way of what um, is in most cases a nurturing relationship between students and teachers who sometimes have to go the extra mile to teach and engage students? There could be, but I think overwhelmingly that we will be seen from these cases. Those nurturing relationships sometimes don't end well. Have you heard any concerns from teachers about having these policies? Not specifically, but I have heard a lot of feedback about when is just texting a student going to turn into this and are giving a ride home going to turn into sexual abuse. And I think one of the things that experts point out to me a lot where like the combination of those things and if someone sees some happening over and over again, then those are warning signs to report.

Speaker 1: 05:13 Yeah. Having a policy would protect school districts in cases of future lawsuits. Right, right. Especially in negligence of failing to warn or train. And I've talked to a few attorneys and they've told me that it's important to have those policies, but also for the school districts to implement those policies well and make sure that everyone in the school is notified of them because even if they have the policies but they aren't exactly implementing them or making sure they're taken seriously, that can be another. And the bigger picture here is that having these policies in place, we'll protect the students. Right. Right. Ultimately having these policies and telling teachers, so it's okay, we'll protect students in the long run. Right. And um, do any of the school districts in San Diego County have teacher student boundary policies? So I've noted Grossmont Union high school district does have one of those policies, but there's very few in the county and San Diego unified. And Sweetwater were those districts who did end up paying students who are harmed by, um, teachers last year. And those districts that don't have them yet, I've been speaking with Kayla Jimenez Education reporter with the Voice of San Diego. Kayla, thanks so much for joining us. Yeah, thank you.

Speaker 2: 06:25 Ah.

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.