The president of the Alpine teachers' union assured school board members Tuesday the district would not be sued over a controversial policy that will limit student-teacher interaction. But after board members unanimously approved the policy, another union leader said there may yet be legal action.
Bart Farnsworth, president of the Alpine Education Association, stood during the board's business meeting and denied a Deseret News report that the group had contemplated suing the district if the so-called scope of employment policy was approved.Farnsworth, who told board members he was "shocked" when he read the story, had informed the Deseret News Saturday that members of the association's board of directors had discussed suing the district if the policy was passed, because they believed it made teachers too vulnerable to lawsuits.
Despite Farnsworth's denial, Nile Miner, a member of the union's board of directors, said the group had discussed taking legal action, and now that the policy has been approved, he intends to recommend the group meet with its attorney to discuss options.
Miner was surprised when told Farnsworth informed the school board there would be no repercussions.
"That's interesting. It sounds like (the AEA board's) communication is breaking down a little bit, and it sounds like we need to have a quick meeting," Miner said. "We did talk about what we would do if this passed. I definitely feel like we should go to our AEA lawyer. We'll probably meet as a board again and find out how legal the policy is. The ACLU always likes to get involved in these things, too."
The school board has been contemplating the policy for a couple of months and has made several alterations in response to parent and teacher concerns. Miner said those changes have helped, but the version of the policy approved Tuesday still leaves teachers in an awkward position.
"What it boils down to is the background of the policy is good, but the district is trying to protect themselves. If a teacher messes up, they'll say, `Well, we told you so.' "
The policy requires teachers to get permission from their principal before meeting with students outside of the regular school day or outside of school premises, and instructors must avoid traveling alone with students. Further, the policy says, "District employees shall avoid being alone at any time with an individual student unless it is necessary in the performance of professional duties within the scope of employment."
The latter part of the policy especially concerns many teachers, because they say directing teachers to avoid being alone with students unless it is necessary leaves too much room for question.
"It's too open-ended. What is `necessary' supposed to mean?" Miner said.
Ardy Greening, president-elect of Bonneville Uniserve, a teachers group, said one of her colleagues intends to simply stop meeting with students alone.
"I think there are some vast ramifications with this policy, and I think the teachers will just need to cover their own backsides," Greening said. "Can any teacher afford to take the risk? I don't necessarily think there wouldn't be (a student) who wants to get back at someone and makes all kinds of accusations."
Some teachers believe that because the district has issued the warning through the policy, it will leave its employees to fend for themselves if they are accused of inappropriate interaction with students.
Superintendent Steven Baugh said, however, that administrators do not intend to desert teachers.
"That's not the way we feel about our employees. We're loyal to them. We want to support them," Baugh said. "The students' welfare has to be uppermost in our minds, and I think this is an excellent policy."