Something happened to me the past week that I’ve never experienced in my years of teaching: I had one student accuse another student of touching him inappropriately. You can only imagine the chaos that has ensued over the past week and a half, and we still don’t have a resolution to this difficult situation. Because I own my school, we don’t have a union and it’s been left up to me to navigate the ins and outs of what to do in this situation. I’ve had to deal with investigators, detectives, child welfare and licensing with child protective services who have assumed that I am also at fault. The one bright spot, if there is one, in this ball of hell has been that the two students are in my class, so I haven’t really had to defend anyone other than myself.
I never dreamed that this could ever happen. In 15 years of running my school, I guess I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve not been able to refer to school policies or a handbook on this matter, like I do with other situations.
So I’m writing policies as I go. Out of all of this I can pass on these words: GUARD YOURSELF. Here are a few tips that I’ve learned through this mess.
First of all if your school has a union, look into all the perks of joining it. I never was very big on unions, simply because I don’t consider myself to be one who gets involved in the politics that go along with one, but I’m definitely wishing I had the support of one right now, not to mention the legal aid and communal support that usually goes along with being a part of a union.
Secondly I cannot express the importance of documentation. Oh my gosh. And not just through texts and emails. Print those off and document about THEM. What prompted the email? Did someone say something to lead to the email? What was said? This entire process not only protects you as an individual, it also provides a running commentary for everyone involved, and trust me they are not nice when they deal with you, so the quicker you document everything the better you remember what happened and don’t let your emotions get involved.
Next, there is strength in numbers. I am fortunate enough to have other teachers on payroll with whom I can discuss the situation and who knows these students. I am not alone in dealing with this situation. They not only provide insight, but will listen to my venting and will help me keep from losing my cool. They also can act as witnesses when I’m talking to the barrage of authorities coming in.
Definitely know your rights in these types of situations. This is huge. These authorities come at you with guns drawn, acting like they are taking over, knowing that you are probably being blindsided and are frightened by their presence. Believe it or not, you have rights in these situations. And they really don’t like it when you exercise those rights. The more you can learn about the agency that is investigating, the better prepared you will be for their subsequent visits. Do whatever is necessary for you to gather information that pertains to you. You may also want to contact an attorney just to be safe.
Finally, guess what is in the works of being added to my policy and procedure handbook? Yep, a section on procedures for dealing with DHS, detectives and other officers of the law, along with expectations for parents if this matter ever surfaces again. I am also in the process of not only adding this to my employee handbook, but creating a legal section for the parents to sign off on. These policies not only protect the alleged victim, they protect the innocent kids and families as well. It will also protect our school as a business, not to mention protecting myself at a teacher and business owner.
What situations have you had to guard yourself against?
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