Welcome to the first post of the mini blog series: Distance Learning Safety Protocols for the Educator and Student. Over the next few weeks, we will continue to post recommendations and best practices which address various safety aspects of distance learning, including grooming, signs of child abuse, student medical emergencies, cyberbullying, and managing the online classroom.
Distance learning has changed the way a school district monitors and oversees student activities. Actions that may have occurred in real-time on campus may not be easy to detect in the online environment. However, school districts still have a duty to protect students from the risks that present themselves in the online environment.
In many ways, the transition from in-person instruction to distance learning has reduced the potential for physical and sexual abuse, while increasing the risk of inappropriate online communications and grooming. Grooming is defined as a strategy used by predators to convince or coerce a child into lowering their inhibition with the objective of sexual abuse or misconduct. Grooming can take a variety of forms and is contingent on creating trust between an adult and a child, and subsequently exploiting vulnerability.
School districts can protect their students and employees by creating policies and training on best practices and behavioral expectations during distance learning, to include:
- Avoiding one on one communication via telephone, Zoom, Skype, Facetime, or through direct messaging
- All communication should be public and transparent. Utilize group messaging or authorized applications that allow parents and the school district to review all communications
- Set a standard for a minimum of two students to be present in every class. If one on one instruction is required, a parent or another staff member should be present
- School district employees should appear on screen in a professional manner consistent with acceptable standards for in-person instruction
- Set clear expectations for students engaging in distance learning, including guidelines for acceptable behaviors
- During virtual instruction, school district employees should refrain from asking students about personal effects present in the virtual environment
- School district employees should not discuss nonacademic matters or problems to include personal relationships, sexual activities, or use of drugs/alcohol with students
- Classroom technology rules stay the same – no taking pictures or videos of classmates or instructor
- Any observed inappropriate interactions amongst school district employees and students should be immediately reported to the administration
- School district employees should continue to adhere to all existing policies such as the Use of Technology, Staff-Student Interactions, and the Code of Conduct
Even though distance learning can be a trying time for many students and school district employees, all interactions must remain as professional as possible to protect the integrity of the school district and its employees. For questions, contact Risk Control.