by Patrick Healey
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A state-wide proposal modeling policies intended to limit the possibility of “sexual misconduct” between teachers and students will be voted on by the Virginia Board of Education (Virginia BOE) on Feb. 12.

Among the promoinent, potential policies involve methods of communication.

Teachers and students would be forbidden from texting and interacting over social networking sites such as Facebook, and could not hold an “ongoing series” of one-on-one meetings with a student without the knowledge of the school principal and the consent of the student’s parents.

“I’m not sure if restrictions on this type of communication will prevent someone intent on behaving inappropriately from doing so,” principal Jay Pearson said.

The proposal was originally slated for ratification at the Jan. 13 board meeting following a public comment period that began on Nov. 18.

However, protests from the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) and other educational organizations led the Virginia BOE to lengthen the comment period.

The SPLC was also concerned that the “ongoing series of meetings” stipulation would limit the capability of student reporters to investigate clandestinely.

“Although student journalism often is treated dismissively by the adult world, high school students have in fact brought important news stories to public attention using confidential sources,” SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte wrote in a letter to the Virginia BOE.

Kelly Furnas, Executive Director of the Journalism Education Association (JEA) concurred.

“Texting a student is no more likely to be offensive or misconstrued than a letter, phone call or e-mail. Student journalists use texting to schedule interviews, verify facts and disseminate breaking news,” Furnas wrote in a separate letter to the Board.

If adopted in full by a school district, teachers and school employees violating any of the new policies could be fined, dismissed, “officially reprimanded” or have their educational license challenged, depending on the context of the violation.

Since 2000, 120 Virginia teachers’ licenses have been removed or challenged due to sexual misconduct involving minors, the minutes of the Nov. 18 Virginia Board of Education reveal.