Faculty and staff at local schools may soon be operating under a new set of guidelines for interactions with students that are meant to prevent sexual misconduct.

On Thursday, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) board of education will discuss changing its employee conduct policy to better protect students from sexual abuse. The proposed policy sets new behavioral boundaries, mandates that every employee report misconduct that they observe or hear about, and outlines disciplinary consequences for employees, who would be defined as any adult that interacts with children, including volunteers and coaches.

SMMUSD’s existing misconduct policy places blanket bans on unprofessional relationships, extended contact and sexual behavior between employees and students, but the proposed policy would explicitly prohibit at least 12 separate behaviors that range from selection and grooming to sexual exploitation.

Common tactics that abusers use to groom children, such as singling or seeking out a specific student in a way that may create an excessive emotional attachment or be perceived as acting in a “parental” role, would be considered policy violations and could be punished with disciplinary action up to termination or legal action.

Other behaviors that would be subject to disciplinary action include almost all physical contact, making sexual or sexualized comments about a student’s appearance, using student restrooms when staff restrooms are available and taking a student out of class without a legitimate educational purpose.

Under the proposed rules, law enforcement would investigate suspected child abuse and the district would confidentially investigate all other violations. Retaliation against the person who reported the misconduct or anyone else involved in the investigation would be prohibited.

SMMUSD staff said the changes are necessary in the wake of multiple child sexual abuse scandals the country, citing U.S. Department of Education research estimating that 1 in 10 students will experience sexual misconduct perpetrated by a school employee by the time they graduate from high school.

In the majority of cases of sexual misconduct in schools, staff said, the perpetrator is a male teacher or coach in their mid-30s. Students from low-income or troubled homes, students who are marginalized or bullied and students with disabilities are most vulnerable to sexual abuse.

The Alliance of Schools for Cooperative Insurance Program, the district’s public insurance agency, gathered a focus group of human resources and risk management professionals from local school districts and resource organizations to develop the policy, staff said. A subcommittee of the district’s safety committee reviewed the policy and tailored it to SMMUSD.

The board of education will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at 1651 16th St., Santa Monica.

madeleine@smdp.com

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