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Educator Vulnerabilities: How Best to Avoid or Respond to Compromising Circumstances

One of the most common causes of action against a school or its district is due to actual or perceived negligence.

It is impossible to 100% guarantee students will not get hurt, but it is imperative that school districts and teachers take all the necessary precautionary and proactive measures to help students stay safe under their supervision.

This diligence is particularly significant during times and areas with a higher likelihood of injury- when activities are unstructured and there is an increased congregation of people. Some instances might include recess, class transfer, field trips, bus loading, and any other times when there are more uncontrollable variables at play.


Just because a student is injured does not mean the liability is automatically assumed by the school. It must be proven that the present members of the school district were negligent and did not act appropriately under the circumstances. A relevant gauge of whether appropriate action was taken is to ask whether another person of the same education, care, and experience would have responded similarly to the situation at hand.


It is easy to say that we should avoid negligence and be attentive. However, it can be easier said than put into action. There are a few factors that can help you determine whether you and your district are engaging in proper and sound supervision. Proper supervision will not only protect your school, but it will help to ensure that students are receiving the best support intellectually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Being able to follow all principles of successful supervision is beneficial to everyone involved, whether on or off campus. The following are characteristics and values to adopt for adequate supervision:

  • Vigilance

  • Alertness

  • Planning

  • Practice

  • Discipline

  • Communication

  • Knowledge

  • Movement

With these principles at the forefront of thought and response, you and your teachers will be able to best oversee students and make decisions during all situations.


Supervision isn't only on campus!

Although these elements of supervision are necessary whenever the school district has responsibility of students, it is particularly important during offsite activities. Supervising students and enforcing school policies is difficult enough on school grounds, but it is imperative these standards are upheld during activities off campus. School districts are responsible in all school-related activities, no matter where they occur. We will explore some of the most common off-site circumstances and how to best supervise and avoid vulnerable situations.


Transportation

Providing supervision on a bus is a common occurrence and also one of the district’s most critical responsibilities. It requires prior planning as well as constant vigilance and monitoring. This helps ensure all students’ physical safety as well as trust. Here are a few tips to maintain diligent supervision:

  1. Supervision requires movement: Be sure to walk the aisles regularly in order to aptly see student behavior. An adequate observation cannot be taken while remaining seated.

  2. Ensure the environment is safe: This includes items in the aisle as well as the lighting of the bus. At night, especially, it is important the lights are not on unless a teacher is taking one of their routine walks through the bus.

  3. Extra rules when necessary: Student safety is more important than students being allowed to sit by their friends. If you have a particularly disruptive group, it may be pertinent to assign seats in order to avoid any disruptions or conflicts that could put students at risk.


Events

Planning is key to providing adequate supervision when at the venue of your district’s choosing. It is essential to take into account the layout of the venue as well as the supervisor to student ratio. The following are necessary to consider during student school-related events:

  1. As aforementioned, it is necessary to have an adequate supervisor to student ratio. When deciding, it is important to take into account not only the size of the location, but its population and congregation levels. For instance, at an amusement park, it would be a good idea to have more supervisors and a smaller student to supervisor ratio to account for all of the uncontrollable circumstances that can impede student safety.

  2. Make sure to review safety regulations and behavioral rules with students, staff, and parents prior to the event. This informs all involved of what is expected and makes discipline and enforcement easier during said event.

  3. Student safety expectations should not be lesser during off site activities. Students should feel as safe and responsible during off campus activities as in the classroom, if not more.


Overnight Supervision

Though overnight trips may not be the most common offsite activity, they require likely the most supervision, as not only are students your responsibility during all of the previously mentioned situations, but during a time when they are usually under the care of their family. Though difficult, tedious, and likely stressful, overnight trips offer educational and experiential opportunities that might not otherwise be afforded by children of your district. While keeping in mind the positive effect this can have on a child, considering the following may help to ease the thought of risk that often stresses educators.

  1. Consider where you and your school are choosing to stay. For instance, staying in a hotel allows easier supervision than a motel since all rooms are accessible by only one corridor.

  2. When students are sleeping, it is not safe to assume the risk disappears. It is necessary to have enough staff and supervisors that they may share the night shift as to ensure students remain safe at all hours.

  3. Being outside of campus can often incite excitement in students and encourage a higher sense of adventure. This novelty can sometimes result in contraband or a lack of boundaries when moving room to room. It is thus important to conduct thorough room checks. When doing so, for your teacher’s safety, it is recommended that two adults perform the check, with at least one of them being the same gender as the occupants of the room. If necessary, you can implement rules that allow students only in the room they have been assigned.

Although these considerations can seem like extra work and stress, they are meant to empower you with the tools to handle an exceptional opportunity afforded to your students. Experiential education is essential to a student's well being and development. Above are all ways in which school’s can have the best of both worlds- well-rounded education AND safety.


But just as it is important to protect the students, it is necessary to provide your teachers with the tools to prevent vulnerable situations in which they could be liable. It is a district’s job to protect both their students and teachers. Below, we have identified some of the most vulnerable situations and how to avoid or respond to them.


Are you a vulnerable educator?

Accusations of sexual misconduct or abuse are often an educators greatest fear. The frequency with which these occurrences seem to be in the news can be extra disconcerting, especially for most teachers who have nothing but good intentions. Although false allegations are rare, it is pertinent to take preventative measures. When false allegations do occur, they are usually due to a compromising circumstance. The following are recommendations on how to avoid vulnerable situations and how to respond to them if there is no other option.

  1. Being alone with students: This is not uncommon. Many teachers find themselves alone with students during office hours or between classes. These occurrences are likely unavoidable, however they can be managed in ways that lessen the vulnerability. For instance, make sure you are never alone with a student in an isolated, closed area, even guidance counselors should ensure there is visibility into the room by way of open windows or other means. If you find yourself alone with a student after class or an activity, move the interaction to a more populous or exposed area. This will limit the possibility of accusations.

  2. Personal Discussion: It is important to form bonds and trust with your students in an interpersonal manner. However, it is important that teachers maintain boundaries when involved in discussions around personal lives. You may listen or you may recommend the student to a fellow professional, but make sure to set limits for your own disclosure. It is important not to reveal unnecessary details about your life outside of school.

  3. Driving students: When it comes to transporting students in a teacher’s personal vehicle, the best option is always not to do so. This is due to two reasons. One, the privacy within a vehicle leaves the possibility for false allegation and, two, the risk of an accident poses danger to your student and your own safety physically and professionally. If there is no other option but to drive the student, they should be in the back seat as far away from the driver as possible, and teachers should take time to call parents upon departure with the estimated arrival time and, if necessary, during the drive.


Although these risks for both student and teacher safety exist on a daily basis, it is not as common that school districts understand and implement proactive and preventative measures. Legal institutions will not only review the circumstance under scrutiny but will determine whether schools prepared their faculty for appropriate supervision. Adequate supervision is an absolute necessity for all faculty involved, whether on or off campus. The McGrath Awareness and Response System offers education for educators on essential duties and responsibilities when it comes to student safety. The training not only helps teachers, but administrators, coaches, and other faculty, to have a heightened sensitivity and awareness for situations that pose risk for their professional lives. Overall, McGrath’s Awareness and Response System will help educators to be present, aware, and perceptive, in order to keep both students and themselves safe.

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