Student-teacher relationship policy clears first round

Public and private schools in Nebraska would be required to create a policy that prohibits sexual contact between a teacher and a student under a bill advanced from general file March 9.

Sen. Steve Lathrop
Sen. Steve Lathrop

LB1080, introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, would require the school board or board of education of each school district and the governing authority of each private, denominational or parochial school to adopt a policy regarding appropriate relationships between a student and a school employee, student teacher or intern.

Although many school districts already have such policies, Lathrop said, not all do. Lathrop said the bill is part of the Legislature’s response to incidents of students being manipulated or subjected to inappropriate conduct by teachers in Nebraska schools.

“The educators I represent … are committed professionals,” he said. “I believe you all would say the same about the vast majority of teachers in your local school district, but even a few of these cases are too many.”

The proposed policy would prohibit any school employee or any student teacher or intern from engaging in grooming, which the bill partially defines as “building trust with a student and individuals close to the student in an effort to gain access to and time alone with the student, with the ultimate goal of engaging in sexual contact or sexual penetration with the student.”

It also would prohibit any relationship that involves sexual contact or penetration from occurring between a student and a school employee or a student teacher or intern while a student is enrolled and for a minimum of one year after a student graduates or ceases enrollment.

The policy would include a procedure for reporting suspected grooming or other unacceptable conduct by a school employee, student teacher or intern to the school administration, the state Department of Education, the state Department of Health and Human Services and law enforcement.

Additionally, the policy would describe the preferred methods for a school employee, student teacher or intern to use in communicating with students, including cell phones, email or social media platforms.

Finally, it would include notice that policy violations could result in disciplinary action and referral to the state Department of Education and that any violation involving sexual or other abuse would result in referral to the state Department of Health and Human Services, law enforcement or both.

North Platte Sen. Mike Groene supported LB1080, saying that proponent testimony during its public hearing was “overwhelming” and “convincing.”

“When we drop our children off at the front door of the public school,” he said, “we fully … expect that … this kind of stuff won’t happen.”

Lawmakers voted 39-0 to advance the bill to select file.

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