Alta Vista School encourages close, warm relationships between students and employees. At the same time, it is important that each employee’s conduct is at all times professional. Employees must maintain appropriate boundaries between themselves and students to ensure that they avoid even the perception of inappropriate conduct. Some activities may seem innocent from an employee’s perspective, but can be perceived as flirtation or sexual insinuation from the perspective of a student or parent. The objective of this policy is not to restrain positive relationships between employees and students, but to prevent relationships that could lead to, or may be perceived as, sexual misconduct. Employees must ensure that they do not cross the boundaries of a professional educator relationship.
Below is a list of examples of conduct that may involve inappropriate crossing of the boundaries of the professional relationship:
- Unnecessary physical contact with a student in either a public or private situation;
- Intentionally being alone with a student on campus in a location that is not readily observable by others, without supervisor permission;
- Driving alone with a student except in emergency situations where a parent and supervisor have been notified;
- Giving gifts to an individual student that are of a personal or intimate nature;
- Making, or participating in sexually inappropriate comments with or in the presence of students;
- Seeking emotional involvement with a student for the employee’s benefit;
- Discussing an employee’s own personal troubles or intimate issues with a student;
- Inappropriate use of social media with or about students;
- Using personal email, text messages or social media to communicate with students rather than using school email and communication systems;
- Failing to keep parents and supervisors informed when a significant issue develops about a student or when any of the above boundaries have been crossed.
Duty to Report
If an employee finds him or herself in a difficult situation related to boundaries, the employee should ask for advice from a supervisor or the Head of School. When any employee becomes aware of another employee crossing appropriate boundaries with a student, the employee must report the matter to the Head of School. In some circumstances, employees will also have the duty to report such conduct in accordance with the mandated reporter requirements.
Alta Vista prohibits retaliation against anyone who raises a concern about suspected violations of this policy. Any employee who engages in retaliation will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination.
Social Media Contacts with Students and Their Families
For communications with students or other members of the school community, employees should use school email or other technology resources provided by the school. Use of personal email or texts for communicating with students or their parents is not acceptable.
Employees may not have an on-line relationship on their personal social media accounts with current students or former students under the age of 18. This means that employees may not initiate or accept social media “friend” or “follower” requests (or similar connections) with students or former students under the age of 18. Employees are discouraged from “friending” or “following” parents of current or prospective students due to the inherent conflicts of interest and blurring of professional boundaries that may arise.
Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect
Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect is required under the California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act. A mandated reporter is legally required to report if they know of, or have “reasonable suspicion” of, child abuse or neglect encountered in the scope of their employment. All employees of the school should assume that they are mandated reporters.
What is “Child Abuse or Neglect?”
The California Penal Code defines “child abuse or neglect” to include:
- “physical injury or death inflicted by other than accidental means upon a child [under age 18] by another person”;
- emotional abuse;
- sexual abuse (including sexual assault, sexual exploitation and commercial sexual exploitation);
- neglect (“the negligent treatment or the maltreatment of a child by a person responsible for the child's welfare under circumstances indicating harm or threatened harm to the child's health or welfare. The term includes both acts and omissions on the part of the responsible person”);
- the willful harming or injuring of a child or the endangering of a child’s person; or
- unlawful corporal punishment (“any cruel or inhuman corporal punishment or injury resulting in a traumatic condition”).
“Child abuse or neglect” does not include a mutual affray between minors or age-appropriate corporal punishment that does not result in injury.
What are the duties of a Mandated Reporter?
Employees are legally mandated to make reports of child abuse or neglect when they have a reasonable suspicion that a child, they encounter in the course of their duties has been subjected to abuse or neglect. “Reasonable suspicion” means that a mandated reporter has enough information to even "entertain a suspicion" of child abuse or neglect. Employees are required to make reports even if they don't have proof that abuse or neglect occurred, or they don’t have all the information.
If an employee is at all concerned about the possibility of abuse or neglect, the employee should report. Investigations will be conducted by law enforcement and/or the county child protective services to determine if abuse or neglect has occurred. When an employee is not sure about his or her reporting duties, he or she should always consult with the school counselor, the appropriate Division Head or the Head of School.
Failure to make a required report or breaching the confidentiality of a mandated report may subject a mandated reporter to criminal conviction, fines, loss of credentials and/or licenses and civil suits. Employees may also be subject to discipline up to and including termination.
Legal Protections for Mandated Reporters
Mandated reporters are required to identify themselves to the reporting agency when making reports but are not required to identify themselves to the school or to anyone else. The identity of the mandated reporter and reports they make are confidential and disclosed only to specified persons and agencies and as required by law.
Mandated reporters have immunity from both civil liability and criminal prosecution for making reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. While mandated reporters have immunity from legal claims for making a mandated report, they may be subject to legal liability for disclosing information about the report except as necessary to the investigation and processing of the report.
The school will not retaliate in any way against an employee who complies with his/her duties as a mandated reporter.
Recommended Protocol for Reporting Suspected Abuse or Neglect
If an employee believes that suspected abuse or neglect may be reportable, Alta Vista encourages the employee to follow the following protocol which is intended to facilitate the reporting of suspected abuse and not to interfere with a mandated reporter's reporting duties. An employee may elect to make a report to the appropriate agency without following this protocol and without disclosing his/her identity to the school. Contact the School Counselor ASAP. If the School Counselor is not available, contact the Head of School or the appropriate Division Head.
- The school encourages employees to have the School Counselor, a Division Head or the Head of School participate with the employee in making the report in order to ensure that the report is made in compliance with the mandated reporter requirements and to ensure that the school takes all appropriate steps following the report. If none of these administrators is available to participate in making the report, however, the employee is still responsible for making the report.
- Mandated reporting is an individual responsibility. No supervisor or administrator may prevent an employee from making the report if the employee has reasonable suspicion that abuse or neglect has occurred.
- To make a report, the employee (and the School Counselor, Division Head, or Head of School if available) should take the following steps:
- Complete a Child Abuse Report before calling the child protective services agency (CPS) so the employee will have all necessary information for the call. Forms for the report are available at https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/childabuse/ss_8572.pdf.
- Call San Francisco’s child protective services agency (Family and Children Services) 24/7 reporting hotline at (800) 856-5553 as soon as possible, generally on the same day the employee learns of facts that cause the employee to suspect child abuse or neglect.
- Keep a record of the call to the hotline, including the name of the person to whom the employee spoke, all information the employee provided, and all instructions the employee received.
- If the child abuse reporting agency directs the employee to contact a different agency (such as the police) to make the report, the employee must do so.
- Submit the Child Abuse Report form to the agency who received the telephonic report within 36 hours of knowledge of the suspected abuse. A copy of the written report should be kept in the Head of School’s office in a locked, confidential cabinet.
- If two people have knowledge of abuse, a single report can be filed. If an employee learns that a report has not been filed, however, that employee must make the report.
Things to Remember
IMPORTANT: IF AN EMPLOYEE BELIEVES THAT A CHILD IS IN IMMINENT RISK OF HARM, THE EMPLOYEE SHOULD CALL 911.
If an employee is not certain whether they have enough information to make a report, the employee should consult with the School Counselor, the appropriate Division Head or the Head of School, who can help decide whether to make a report or whether the employee needs to gather additional information before making that decision.
When social workers (or members of law enforcement) come to school to interview students, students generally have the right to have a member of school personnel present. Employees should inform the School Counselor, Head of School, or the appropriate Division Head if they know of a social worker (or member of law enforcement) coming on campus.
Employees should not inform the student or the student's family that an employee has made or will make a report to CPS or law enforcement without first consulting the School Counselor, appropriate Division Head, or Head of School and consulting with CPS or the responsible law enforcement agency. Disclosing the fact of a report may put a child in greater jeopardy (and may subject the employee to legal liability).