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Superintendent Weighs In On Code of Ethics

January 28, 2011

During the 2011 Mississippi Association of Superintendents/Alliance Winter Conference held in Jackson this week, Steve Montgomery, West Point School District Superintendent, said the new Educator Code of Ethics was discussed, and Montgomery said he's all for it.
The Educator Code of Ethics, approved by the Mississippi State Board of Education last Friday,
requires teachers to adhere to a set of principals developed to safeguard students from improper conduct from teachers.
State Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham said the Educator Code of Ethics was created because of the rising number of inappropriate relationships between students and teachers.
Montgomery said the West Point School District has had a teacher Code of Conduct for three years, but the District will adopt the new Educator Code of Ethics that each person employed by the school district must sign.
Montgomery said he included the Code of Conduct for teachers in the West Point School District because from seeing other cases of misconduct around the state, he felt like it was something the District needed. He said he wanted to protect the employees and the students.
“It may have prevented things from happening that might have happened if we had not had a Code of Conduct,” he said.
One of the unethical misconducts of teachers stated in the new code that are increasingly becoming a problem is teachers giving an invitation to students for social networking. Montgomery said this is a big issue.
“When the teachers set up Facebook, they have opened themselves up to students approaching them, and what (teachers) have to do is stop any communication like that that would be inappropriate,” Montgomery said. “Once the invitation is there, then things escalate.”
Texts messages sent between students and teachers are just as bad as social media sites, he said.
“I have told our teachers every year,do not text a student,” Montgomery said. “If they want to communicate with a class where everybody is getting the same text, that may be permissible, but do not text a student one-on-one for any reason.”
Montgomery said even though teachers sign the Code of Ethics at the beginning of each school year, he has had to deal with teachers engaging in inappropriate behavior with students in the West Point School District.
“Signing the Code of Conduct is a warning, but it doesn't stop it,” Montgomery said. “Any school must turn it over to the proper authorities, and then they take it and investigate, so we would turn anything inappropriate with students over to the law. We won't tolerate any professional misconduct, and if the proof is there, they will be terminated.”
The new Educator Code of Ethics states that an educator also must not mishandle funds or use funds for their personal gain. Inappropriate uses of funds by teachers is something Montgomery said he has also dealt with in the past, like many other school districts have.
“They're adults, and they should know that's not their money, and they shouldn't take it,” Montgomery said.
State legislatures are also trying to get the proposal to amend Code Section 37-3-2 approved. If approved, the Section would outline specific reasons for revoking or suspending an educator's license for sexual misconduct and this would also require District Superintendents to give reports of misconduct to the Mississippi Department of Education related to educator/student relationships.

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