The Pennsylvania Department of Education does not compile data similar to that of the U.S. Department of Education regarding inappropriate contact between students and educators and coaches, but spokesman Eric Levis said state officials keep a watchful eye on misconduct by any school employee.
“Teachers have ethical responsibilities outlined in Pennsylvania Code of Professional Practice and Conduct,” Levis said. “Under this Code of Conduct, educators are expected to maintain a level of professionalism in their interactions with students and in their use of technology.”
According to the state Department of Education, each district adopts its own policy on social media and teacher-student contact. School administrators said their school districts have strict policies forbidding teachers from either text messaging or emailing students on a one-on-one basis.
Shikellamy's policy was put in place in September 2018 outlining in detail that teachers are prohibited from text messaging, emailing or calling students in a one-on-one setting.
According to the policy, district employees/student teachers are prohibited from communicating with students in a manner that is unprofessional and inappropriate. Examples of unprofessional communication are employees/student teachers communicating with students as if employees and students were peers, such as writing personal letters or emails and texting students. Shikellamy Superintendent Jason Bendle said the policy is under review and will be updated.
In Lewisburg, the district allows teachers to text with students but only about school-related topics, according to the district's policy. The policy also states all messages should be sent in a group.
"As with other forms of communication, when communicating electronically, adults shall maintain professional boundaries with students," the policy states. Electronic communication with students shall be for legitimate educational reasons only. Generally, all electronic communications from coaches and advisors to team or club members shall be sent in a single communication to all participating team or club members, except for communications concerning an individual student’s medical or academic privacy matters, in which case the communications will be copied to the building principal."
Lewisburg even bans teachers from accepting student "friend" requests on social media platforms.
The Line Mountain School District does not have a specific policy banning students from communicating with teachers or staff members on cellphones or social media, but has policies dealing with appropriate use.
“We want to encourage responsible behavior,” Superintendent Dave Campbell previously said.
The district’s policy handbook in dealing with acceptable use of internet/computer networks was recently revised from a 2004 version, adding policies on new technology and communication methods, Campbell said.
“Users are expected to act in a responsible, ethical and legal manner in accordance with district policy, accepted rules of network etiquette, and federal, state and local laws,” according to Line Mountain's policy on technology usage.
At Line Mountain, 21 uses are specifically prohibited, including engaging in illegal activity, using systems for non-work or non-school related work, transmitting inappropriate language or profanity, transmitting material likely to be offensive or objectionable to recipients, accessing obscene or pornographic material, according to the policy.
In July 2016, Mifflinburg Superintendent Dan Lichtel said the board adopted a policy in which it clearly states teachers are not to interact with students on an unprofessional level. Legitimate educational reasons include matters or communications related to teaching, counseling, athletics, extracurricular activities, treatment of a student’s physical injury or other medical needs, school administration or other purposes within the scope of the adult’s job duties. "It is appropriate for adults to discuss students’ interests, hobbies, activities, etc. in order to engage the student in instruction and school activities," the policy states.
The policy lists 18 specific situations in which teachers can be in trouble if they contacted a student.
At Milton, Superintendent Cathy Keegan said the staff uses various tools to communicate with students and families. Class Dojo, and Remind, are two communication tools used heavily, Keegan said.
Class Dojo is a classroom communication app used to share reports between parents and teachers while Remind is a text messaging app used to help teachers, students and parents communicate quickly and efficiently, according to the app website.
Keegan said the district's policy addresses maintaining professional adult/student boundaries.
"All adults shall be expected to maintain professional, moral and ethical relationships with district students that are conducive to an effective, safe learning environment," Keegan said.
"This policy addresses a range of behaviors that include not only obviously unlawful or improper interactions with students, but also precursor grooming and other boundary-blurring behaviors that can lead to more egregious misconduct."