Beginning next month, Louisiana public schools will be required to document all electronic communication that occurs between teachers and students. The new law will even require tracking exchanges initiated by students to teachers via personal devices the schools don’t own.
This first-of-its-kind state law is intended to improve student safety by holding educators accountable for teacher-student communication, but many educators fear it will have a chilling effect on such communication outside of school.
According to the law–stemming from legislation by state Rep. Frank Hoffman, R-West Monroe–Louisiana public schools must develop and implement policies that comply with the measure by Nov. 15. These policies must:
– Define electronic communication;
– Require that “all electronic communication by [a school] employee … to a student” use only “a means provided by or otherwise made available by the school system for this purpose,” and any other communication not school-approved must occur only with a member of that student’s immediate family (and this must be authorized by the school board);
– Specify that any communication to a student from a school employee, or from a student to an employee using means outside of the ones provided by the school, must be reported by the teacher, and records must be kept of the communication for a period of at least one year;
– Specify the disciplinary action to be taken in case of a failure to comply;
– Provide a means for reporting and investigating any failure to comply, including reporting the case to the police;
– Provide a means to inform all employees of the new policies; and
– Inform the student’s guardians that they may choose not to have their child contacted by a school employee unless the communication is directly related to the child’s education services and is sent to more than one student in the school.
The measure also states that no local public school, city, parish board, or member of the board shall be “civilly liable for any electronic communication by an employee to a student that is prohibited” in the law.