By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
The Starkville School District Board of Trustees will evaluate and vote on 11 new policies during its Oct. 4 meeting, including a potential extension of a code of ethics to all district employees.
The board could decide whether to require only licensed educators â€” such as teachers, principals or counselors â€” to comply with the Mississippi Professional Educator Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct, or extend the standards to all district employees.
The code includes 10 different standards which outline appropriate employee conduct both in and outside the school.
The first standard requires the educator or employee to act in a professional and ethical manner. This calls for the employee to respect their co-workers, maintain competence in regards to their job and responsibilities, and provide professional education services in a nondiscriminatory manner. It forbids unethical conduct, including harassment of colleagues, physical altercations, misuse of test materials and inappropriate language, during school activities.
The code also deals with relationships within the school setting, including student-educator and co-worker interactions.
During the 2011 Legislative Session, Gov. Haley Barbour signed House Bill 641 into law. The law provides specific grounds for revocation or suspension of a teacherâ€™s or administratorâ€™s license for sexual misconduct with a student. The law requires superintendents and principals to report incidences of sexual involvement of school employees with a student.
Charles McClelland, chairman of the Mississippi State Board of Education, said the code will help protect Mississippi students.
â€śThe media frequently reports that the numbers of sexual relationships between teachers and students is increasing across the nation. As Facebook and other social media outlets continue in their popularity, the boundaries between students and educators become less defined,â€ť McClelland said. â€śOur hope is that the Mississippi Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct will set clear guidelines and protect the health, safety and general welfare of our students and educators. This law may serve as a model for other states that face similar situations when dealing with unethical behaviors of educators.â€ť
The fourth standard requires the employee to maintain a professional relationship with the students. Employees are encouraged to support the students and create a challenging environment for students. The standards prohibit employees from harming a student in any way and outline behaviors that would be deemed inappropriate, such as sexual jokes or remarks, electronic communication, such as texting or invitation to social networking.
Another standard requires employees to maintain a professional relationship with their colleagues. The standard states employees cannot make false statements about a colleague, reveal confidential health or professional information, or discriminate against a coworker.
One standard states an â€śeducator should exemplify honesty and integrity in the course of a professional practice and does not knowingly engage in deceptive practices regarding official policies of the school district or educational institution.â€ť This standard prohibits lying about professional qualifications, criminal history, employment history, falsifying records or directing others to do so.
Other standards forbid the use of drugs or alcohol, including tobacco, while on school grounds or at school related functions and requires employees to abide by local, state and federal laws.
The code also forbids the misappropriation of school funds, property or equipment for personal gain.
If the board decides to extend the Mississippi Educator Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct to all employees, the code will be printed in the employee handbook. Employees would be required to sign a statement verifying they have been informed of the code. All employees would receive annual in-service training on the code and standards. If they violate the code, their contract may be revoked or suspended.
Earlier this month, the school board held the first reading of the policies. The board will have a second reading and vote on the policies during its Oct. 4 meeting.
All 11 policies can be viewed in full on the districtâ€™s website. Comments and opinions on the policies can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, which will automatically send the email to all board members.