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Interaction, Conduct, Communication and Ethics Standards

Revised: June 2019

Policy No.: 4.20

American Heritage American Academy

  As employees of an educational institution, you are held to a higher standard of professionalism by parents, students, colleagues, and members of the public.  We support and endorse a strict policy of respect toward students and expect employees to abide by a professional, moral, and ethical standard of conduct and model good citizenship for students, parents, and the community.  Students typically respond better to faculty and administrators and evidence greater levels of respect when appropriate expectations are established right from the beginning of the relationship. 

The interactions between employees and students, on and off School property and during or outside of school hours, should be based on mutual respect and trust and upon an understanding of the appropriate boundaries between adults and students.  Many of our employees have contacts with students who attend other schools, through coaching, club activities, academic competitions, etc., and this policy applies to those relationships as well. Even if a student participates willingly in an activity, boundary crossing interactions between employees and students (regardless of the student’s age) are a violation of this policy.  All employees are expected to accept responsibility for their conduct, and should understand that they are representatives and ambassadors of the School 24/7.

Employees are encouraged to discuss questions and concerns with their Principal or the CFO whenever they are unsure whether particular conduct may constitute a violation of this policy. Employees must understand that even an appearance of inappropriate relationships will adversely impact their effectiveness in the school environment.  If you are not sure whether a particular comment or action may be appropriate, it is far better to avoid the behavior than risk negative consequences. 

This policy is intended to guide all employees in conducting themselves in a way that reflects the high standards of behavior expected by our school community and the public.  This policy is not intended to restrain appropriate and positive relationships between our employees and students, but to prevent relationships that could lead to, or be perceived as, inappropriate.

Guidelines for Maintaining Appropriate Professionalism:

  • Be wise and thoughtful in all of your interactions with students, avoiding any communication or activity that could create the appearance of being too friendly, too close, or having too frequent personal conversations or meetings with a student. 
  • All meetings and interactions should be visible and transparent.  You should not meet one-on-one with students in giving lessons, having meetings, or other activities.  If you end up one-on-one (such as when only one student shows up for an after school help session), then think about how you can bring transparency to the situation.  Put your chair and the student’s chair in an area where the door/window is visible; bring in another adult if possible; and notify your Principal of the situation.
  • Always treat a student with respect and dignity, even when they are being difficult.  If a student does not follow directions, clearly communicate your instructions and, if the student does not listen or respond appropriately, take appropriate action.  For example, separate the student from the group; walk up to the student to ensure the student clearly sees you communicating with him/her; remove the student from the activity; communicate with the parent after the event; write a counseling report; etc. You may always contact the Dean of Students or your principal for assistance. Of course, physically moving, grabbing, touching, or hitting a student, or grabbing something from a student, with aggression or because of frustration is never acceptable.  Nor is physically threatening a student with words or objects.
  • If touching is appropriate to the instruction, such as dance, music lessons, and so on, explain at the beginning of instruction with students and parents why, when and how, you might touch a student.  Before using touch in instruction, use alternatives such as demonstration (for example, your own wrist placement) or verbal description (such as explaining the position or movement of the body part).  Keep touch brief and what is appropriate and necessary for the instructional point (such as moving a student’s hand for proper finger placement on the musical instrument and only after asking permission to do so), remembering context, gender and age.  For example, before touching a student you might ask:  “May I adjust your wrist so your hand stays more horizontal?”  If a student appears or states that he or she is uncomfortable at any time, immediately cease the contact and report the incident to your principal, the CFO or the  President.
  • Avoid giving students rides, except in emergency situations (in such case, report (phone call, text, or email) the situation to your principal as soon as practical and make every effort to enlist the assistance of another adult or student, recognizing that the welfare of the student takes precedence);
  • There are times when the use of appropriate physical contact in a public setting to show support and encouragement toward students who are receptive to this form of expression is appropriate.  However, always exercise good judgment and never force any physical contact.  Examples of brief and appropriate displays of affection may include:
    • Side-hug;
    • Holding hands while walking with small children;
    • Holding hands with small children when they are upset;
    • A pat on the back;
    • An arm around a shoulder;
    • Hand-shakes; and
    • High-fives, hand slaps, and fist bumps;
  • Sometimes students initiate physical contact with you, such as full frontal or “bear” hugs.  When this occurs, gently redirect the student to equally positive, but more appropriate forms of interactions, such as shaking hands, high fives, fist bumps, side-hug, etc. 
  • Ensure that all communications with students are professional and related to an appropriate purpose, including oral or written communications; telephone calls; electronic communication (such as texting, instant messaging, e-mail).  Electronic and online communications with students, including those through personal devices, must be accessible to the administration and professional in content and tone. Swearing, making inappropriate sexual, racial/or ethnic comments or telling or listening to off-color or sexual jokes or stories is never appropriate; 
  • Other than the use of group texting tools, such as Remind, Class Parrot, etc. for group communications between the teachers and the class regarding school work and events (such as homework updates, upcoming school events, reminding the class of upcoming tests, etc.), texting between employees and students should be the rare case and not the general rule. Limit texting to matters that need immediate communication, such as changing a time of location or practice, during a field trip when you and the student are trying to locate each other, and so on.   Phone numbers should be requested and shared only for legitimate school reasons. Employees should understand that if they engage in texting on their personal device, the personal device is subject to search at any time by a school official. 
  • Emails should be through the School’s system and used to convey information or respond to a question. Emails should not be used for feedback on student performance.  You should never email a student on your personal email.
  • Texting and email should take place during school hours (including school activities) and when possible another adult should be included on the communication (such as a parent or administrator).  Remember that these forms of communication can be taken out of context easily; stay professional.
  • Use only school sanctioned social media.  Employees shouldn’t initiate or accept friend requests or follow a student on social media.  Employees shouldn’t create a social networking site and then invite students to view or permit them to participate in the site.  Social media should not be used to communicate with a student.

Examples of inappropriate, Boundary Crossing Interactions and Communications with Students:

This list is not all inclusive and other, similar activities should also be avoided:

  • Encouraging or allowing students to call you by an inappropriate nickname or calling or referring to a student by an inappropriate nickname, term of endearment, pet name, etc. – use the student’s given/preferred name;
  • Touching students or their clothing in non-professional ways or inappropriate places, or touching a student with aggression, in frustration, or when you are highly emotional; 
  • Making too personal comments to students (about their clothing, hair, nail polish, personal habits, etc.)
  • Invading personal space; standing or sitting to close; maintaining intense or lingering eye contact;
  • Giving or exchanging gifts, cards, or letters with an individual student or students;
  • Excessive attention toward a particular student or students;
  • Inviting or allowing students in your home;
  • Visiting a student in their home or other location when the parents are not present;
  • Socializing or spending time with students (including but not limited to activities such as going out for meals, movies, shopping, traveling and recreational activities) outside of class or school-sponsored events;
  • Taking students off school property other than for approved field trips and school activities;
  • Suggesting or permitting students to sit on your lap at any time;
  • Engaging students to complete personal errands for you;
  • Discussing the personal affairs of other students or your colleagues;
  • Fostering, encouraging, or participating in inappropriate emotionally or socially intimate relationships with students in which the relationship is outside the bounds of the reasonable employee-student relationship and in which the relationship could reasonably cause a student to view the employee as more than a teacher, administrator, advisor, etc.;
  • Disclosing personal, sexual, family, employment concerns, or other private matters to students;
  • Unnecessarily invading a student’s privacy (such as using the boys’ or girls’ restrooms when any students are present);
  • Visiting students to “hang out” in their hotel rooms when on field trips or sporting events;
  • Showing pornography to students;
  • Providing alcohol or drugs – either prescription or illegal (except for medications provided in accordance with School policy on medication administration) -- to students; and
  • Engaging in any romantic or sexual relationships with students, including asking on a date, dating, flirting, sexual contact, kissing, inappropriate physical displays of affection, speaking with innuendo, banter, or allusions to suggest a relationship or sexual subjects, or sexually suggestive comments between employees and students, regardless of whether employee or student initiates the behavior, whether the relationship is consensual, or whether the student has parental permission.

If you are an employee who is also a parent of a student at our School, you are expected to address perceived problems or alleged inequities by other students (bullying, etc.) in the same way all other parents are to address such actions.  Report the problem to the appropriate administrator.  Do not take personal action to address the situation.

We certainly encourage close relationships between employees and students.  However, all after-school and away from campus contact with students (including transporting students in a staff member’s vehicle, babysitting, going to dinner, etc.) must first be cleared with the Head of School in each specific instance.  In cases where the employee is offering services (such as babysitting, transport, etc.), the parents must submit a properly completed “Release” form available in the Business Office.  It is the responsibility of the employee to ensure that the form has been submitted and clearance has been obtained from the Head of School. An exception to this is when employees interact with students outside of School as a result of the employee having children who also attend the School.  In those circumstances, employees should be cognizant of their behavior, language and interactions when other students who attend the School are present.  Employees should also strive to have more than one adult present if students of the School are staying at their home overnight.  Employees must remember that even when acting in the role of parent, they still represent the school and must ensure that all interactions are professional and appropriate.

Reporting Procedure:  If you have information that raises the possibility that an employee has engaged in inappropriate behavior or misconduct that might affect the health, safety, or welfare of a student, you must notify one of the following individuals immediately.  In addition, employees must report any awareness or concern of a student’s in appropriate or questionable behavior.  If you are unsure whether a particular action or comment is inappropriate, you should err on the side of caution and report the concern.

Your Division Head; or

June Walker, CFO

Doug Laurie, President

Do not attempt to resolve the situation yourself.  It is vital that one of the individuals above be notified so that the School can handle the situation appropriately.  Failure to report inappropriate behavior or misconduct that may affect the health, safety, or welfare of a child may result in discipline, up to and including termination.

If you have information that raises the possibility that an employee has engaged in child abuse, you must report such concerns as set forth in the school’s Child Abuse Reporting Policy.  Failure to do so may result in discipline, up to and including termination.

Employees who make a good faith report of a suspected violation of this policy or who cooperate in inquiries or investigations related to the investigation of a report, shall be not be penalized in anyway.  In you believe that have been retaliated against for making a report under this policy, you must immediately report that concern to one of the above individuals.  In addition, you should note that Florida’s child abuse reporting law (Fla. Stat. 39.203) provides immunity to persons who report actual or suspected cases of child abuse in good faith. 

In addition, as a part of every employee’s obligation to keep children and our campus safe, if you have information reflecting that any person who may regularly or periodically visit the school’s campus (student, employee, parent, spouse of an employee, family member, volunteer, or contractor) has been accused, arrested, or convicted of any type of potential abuse or sexual misconduct toward any other person, you must immediately report such information to the Head of School.

Timing of Reports:  Reporting of complaints or concerns should be made promptly so that rapid and constructive action can be taken.  Therefore, while no fixed reporting period had been established, we expect employees to make reports as soon as they have reason to believe that an employee’s conduct may affect a student’s health, safety, or welfare.  In addition, even if you are currently hearing about an employee’s alleged past misconduct, you must report your concern so that the School can investigate the situation and ensure that appropriate action, if any, has been taken.  If the information that you have to report involves the potential of child abuse, please refer to the reporting guidelines under the separate Child Abuse Reporting Policy in this handbook.

Investigatory Process and Confidentiality:  The administration will assess the information provided and will investigate reports of misconduct. The investigation will be tailored to the report and may include individual interviews with the complaining individual, the person accused of inappropriate conduct and, where necessary, with individuals who may have observed the alleged conduct or may have relevant knowledge.  The School will attempt to maintain confidentiality of the information to the extent possible, consistent with the School’s obligations to properly investigate.  

Disciplinary and Other Related Action:  The School will discipline any individual found to have engaged in inappropriate behavior or misconduct that may affect the health, safety, or welfare of students.  In addition, the School will discipline any person whom it determines was aware of the circumstances and failed to report it.  Moreover, to the extent that the individual who knowingly failed to report such misconduct holds a Florida teaching certificate, the Florida Education Practices Commission may suspend the educator’s certificate for such failure.

Employer References:  Only authorized management personnel of the School are permitted to respond to requests for references from potential employers regarding a current or former employee.  Any person authorized to respond to such references who does so at the request of a prospective employer or the current or former employee will be immune from liability pursuant to Fla. Stat. 768.095, as long as such response is truthful and not intended to violate the current or former employee’s civil rights.

Employer immunity from liability; Disclosure of Information Regarding Former or Current Employees:  An employer who discloses information about a former or current employee to a prospective employer of the former or current employee upon request of the prospective employer or of the former or current employee is immune from civil liability for such disclosure or its consequences unless it is shown by clear and convincing evidence that the information disclosed by the former or current employer was knowingly false or violated any civil right of the former or current employee protected under chapter 760.