EDITORIAL: Ethics for educators

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi Department of Education proposed Mississippi Educator Code of Ethics strongly addresses heightened concerns about professional behavior, particularly inappropriate and/or illegal relationships between teachers and students.
The code – developed by a 20-person special task force that included teachers, administrators, laypersons, and legal experts – makes explicit what common sense and decency dictate, but which in recent years too often has been ignored.
The proposed draft includes standards for educator/student relationships, unlawful acts, and other areas of professional conduct. The response from educators and administrators and trustees interviewed by the Daily Journal has been strongly supportive.
Violations could lead to terminations and license revocations, and it includes protections to ensure that inappropriate conduct in one district is known to any district in which a person might try to become employed again as an educator.
State Superintendent Tom Burnham said the code sets the parameters of professional behavior.
Proposed legislation would provide statuary grounds for revocation or suspension of a teacher or administrator’s license for sexual misconduct – and require local superintendents to report to MDE unethical conduct relating to an educator/student relationship.
Board Chairman Charles McClelland said the trustees’ top priority is the safety or school children.
In summary, the code requires that educators abide by federal, state, and local laws and statutes and local school board policies, and “always maintain a professional relationship with all students, both in and outside the classroom.”
It also would require all educators to always maintain a professional relationship with colleagues, both in and outside the classroom.
Other provisions set conduct related to alcohol, drugs and tobacco, use of public funds, and “accepting gifts, gratuities, favors, and additional compensation” from any source.
The code also would require educators to abide by state and federal laws and local school board policies related to confidentiality.
State trustee Claude Hartley of Tupelo said he fully supports the proposed code.
“I believe the committee has done an outstanding job,” Hartley said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. “A lot of hard work has gone into this.”
The code is arguably overdue, and it is one way public schools can become in a practical and significant way more like private business.
Workplaces must have boundaries, and a carefully defined code of ethics places boundaries around the areas that usually cause the most serious problems. If followed, a code for educators can prevent the problems causing the most upheaval and protect schoolchildren’s safety and best interests.