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School policies rely on judgment for student-staff communications

Published On: Apr 15 2013 06:23:13 PM EDT   Updated On: Apr 16 2013 12:00:00 AM EDT

We told you over the weekend about a Carter County teacher accused of inappropriately texting a 13-year-old student.


We told you over the weekend about a Carter County teacher accused of inappropriately texting a 13-year-old student. Click here to read that story.

That teacher, 30-year-old Kelly Smith, now faces charges, but are schools doing enough to keep the digital boundaries between students and teachers far enough apart? News 5 took a look at current policies.

When it comes to texting, email, and social media, how far is too far when it comes to students and teachers?

Peggy Campbell, assistant director for Carter County Schools, told us staff and student communication conduct is addressed every year before school starts. "We do not want any of our teachers to use text or email for any purposes other than work-related information to students about school activities," Campbell noted.

Even so, we discovered you won't find that spelled out in school board policy. "We made our policy general so that it states that without saying it," said Campbell.

News 5 got a copy of the staff-student relationship code. The policy states, 'Staff members shall use good judgment in their relationships with students beyond their work responsibilities and/or outside the school setting and shall avoid excessive informal and social involvement.'

We learned that's exactly what's outlined in Johnson City Schools' policy. "We see that there is a place for communication with technology, but it's very important that our employees use it appropriately," said Debra Bentley, the communications supervisor for Johnson City Schools.

Bentley told us stopping all electronic communication between students and teachers isn't logical, especially when it comes to keeping coaches and players connected.     

But, Bentley said there are rules. "All players of the team receive the same text. Students are not texted individually," Bentley said.

Parents we talked to seemed to agree; these boundaries aren't black and white, but judgment is key. "It may be okay as far as homework assignments, or it they need to get to their field in time if they need to get to after school activities, but that should be it," said Melissa Palazzo, a mother of teenagers.

"Any type of student-teacher interaction that is a little excessive, I think would be a little inappropriate," said Nicole Ballard, another mother of teenaged children.

We also checked with Sullivan County Schools and found out their staff is also not directly prohibited from using Facebook and texting to communicate with students, but we're told it is strongly discouraged.