AL lawmaker proposes law requiring training for teachers to avoid inappropriate relationships with students

MONTGOMERY, Ala (WIAT) — One Alabama lawmaker wants to see yearly training for teachers on how to avoid inappropriate relationships with students.

Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) told CBS 42 that companies already offer similar training to corporations and military members. He’d like to see the same programs in the school system.

“We’re having a problem in the nation with inappropriate contact between teachers and students, but we have an epidemic in Alabama,” Butler said.

Last year, Butler said two teachers in Etowah County were arrested for an alleged inappropriate relationship. One was a science teacher at his kids’ high school.

“Right now, just telling them they’re going to jail is clearly not working,” Butler said.

While Butler believes 99% of teachers do the right thing, he wants to seek out the small fraction of teachers who commit crimes.

In House Bill 409, Butler is proposing that the Alabama State Department of Education set guidelines for the training that would be uniform and comprehensive.

Butler wants the training to focus on avoiding inappropriate touching, the use of social media, and reminding teachers of the requirement to report any suspicious activity by colleagues.

A spokesperson for ALSDE said it already has similar training programs at state and regional conferences. Local districts are encouraged to offer training as well.

ALSDE recently completed a recorded presentation that allows educators to be awarded credits for participation. The program is called, “The trouble with texting teachers, avoiding crossing the line with students,” the spokesperson said.

Ethics training is also required for teachers looking to obtain certification.

A spokesperson for the Alabama Educator’s Association told CBS 42 that it supports any initiative to put a stop to inappropriate relationships, even though it believes the vast majority of professional educators already know the boundaries.

While Butler is proposing the state contract with a company to provide the training statewide, an AEA spokesperson believes state educators could provide the training without contracting the service out.

With the rise of social media, some parents told CBS 42 they don’t believe it is appropriate for a teacher to communicate with a student outside of the classroom.

“I think the teachers should contact the parents if they need to know anything or have any contact with a student, they should contact the parents,” said Carolyn Wesson.

According to numbers from ALSDE, the number of investigations into inappropriate relationships has dropped in recent years. Here’s a look at some of the numbers from ALSDE:

2014: 51 investigations

2015: 46 investigations

2016: 36 investigations

So far in 2017: 11 investigations

Even though avoiding improper relationships may seem like common sense, parents think it would be helpful for teachers to have a refresher each year.

“You can try to have as much control over your children and know everything that they’re doing, but there’s always that message that might get sent that the parent don’t know about,” said Gloria Connell.

House Bill 409 is currently in committee, but could be brought up on the House floor for a vote.

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