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What rules govern student-teacher communication?

Two south Texas teachers have resigned in the last week due to improper communication with students. What rules are in place?

COMAL COUNTY, Texas — Comal ISD officials said Wednesday that a Canyon Lake High School teacher has resigned after allegations of "inappropriate communication" with a student. Just last Friday, a Boerne ISD teacher resigned from her position after being accused of having inappropriate communication with students.

Both school districts are now doing investigations and Canyon Lake High School Principal Mark Oberholtzer has already told parents they will continue to work on student/teacher boundaries. That campus already had a similar situation last fall.  

"In response to the first incident that occurred in the fall, we held a meeting with all teachers and staff, which included Mr. Nauman, to address the seriousness of this issue and to reinforce appropriate student/teacher boundaries. We will continue to address this issue with all teachers and staff," Oberholtzer stated vie email. 

Still, policy is not problem. KENS 5 looked in to communications policies for both school districts Wednesday and found some very specific language regarding student-employee communication. 

The Comal ISD handbook addresses this communication starting on page 41, and the Boerne ISD handbook addresses the issue on page 45. 

Much of the language appears to be identical, and both specifically state:

"The employee is prohibited from knowingly communicating with students using any form of electronic communications, including mobile and web applications, that are not provided or accessible by the district unless a specific exception is noted below."

The handbooks go on to state: 

"Only a teacher, trainer, or other employee who has an extracurricular duty may use text messaging, and then only to communicate with students who participate in the extracurricular activity over which the employee has responsibility." 

Even regarding extracurricular activates, rules state that employee communications must be limited to their responsibilities. 

The rules also specifically state, "The employee does not have a right to privacy with respect to communications with students and parents."

There are, of course, rules explicitly prohibiting student-teacher relationships, but the additional rules about general communication should make such incidents easier to catch because a student or administrator should be able to view any communication between the two parties. 

Northside American Federation of Teachers President Wanda Longoria, who specifically represents Northside ISD employees, told KENS 5 she tells members that transparency is the goal. 

"Always bring admin and parents into the loop when you are communicating with a student," Longoria said. "That's your best protection isn't it? To be transparent in all things with the people who are in charge and have custody of those children."

While Longoria works exclusively with NISD staff and polices, she told KENS 5 keeping all communication visible to parents and administrators remains a best practice. 

"We just go above and beyond that with our membership to ensure that they are protected by always looping in parents and administration as much as possible. At the end of the day we're all charged with protecting our children," Longoria said. 

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