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Three more York County districts adopt policy to prevent sexual abuse

Logo: Maintaining boundaries

Three more York County school districts adopted measures in April limiting contact and communications between faculty, staff and volunteers and students. The move is intended to limit sexual abuse.

In April, West Shore, South Western and West York Area school districts joined eight others in York County by approving Policy 824, Maintaining Professional Adult/Student Boundaries.

It outlines specifies scenarios in which traditional student-adult boundaries might be blurred. These could include an adult giving a student a ride, giving gifts or personal attention to students, or talking to a student about personal issues.

“This policy addresses a range of behaviors that include not only obviously unlawful or improper interactions with students, but also precursor grooming and other boundary-blurring behaviors that can lead to more egregious misconduct,” the policy reads.

Created in 2014, the policy was a response to the state’s Educator Discipline Act, which had been updated with boundary-blurring behaviors.

But it has seen a resurgence in recent years because there are new factors, such as social media, that have changed the ways in which people interact, South Western solicitor Gareth Pahowka has said.

More:South Western considers update to sexual assault policy

Though the policy has been received favorably in York County, some administrators delayed its passage in favor of getting more feedback on its practical implications.

For example, West York board members had some concerns when the policy was introduced on Feb.11.

Board Vice President Jeanne Herman said she understood the intent of the policy but was concerned its language could interfere with events such as athletic team dinners in the home.

Some dinners are sponsored by a parent in a home where a volunteer might attend, and it's unclear what the guidance is in those situations — "that kind of caveat isn’t here," she said of the draft policy.

Policy language notes the policy is not intended to disrupt family friendships or all interactions with staff outside of school — such as at religious or civic functions.

And South Western's Pahowka has said it does not provide an exhaustive list of scenarios.

More:EDITORIAL: Yes, we still need Sexual Assault Awareness Month

But some scenarios, such as the need to have both parent and principal permission before giving rides to students, might actually end up creating more inconvenience for everyone, said West York board President Suzanne Smith.

“I know it’s come up with me when I am coaching mock trial,” she said.

When something happened and parent ran late, she didn’t want to leave a student downtown alone but also didn’t have permission to drive students home, she said.

“I’ve stood with them in the cold for a good half-hour waiting,” Smith said.

South Western first introduced Policy 824 in November but pulled it for further review. The assistant superintendent went to each school building to gather feedback and made adjustments based on suggestions.

The primary change was to require the district to post the policy annually online to ensure students, faculty, staff and families are aware of it.

West York also incorporated revisions to address earlier concerns by switching required approval for driving students from a building principal to an administrator.

That would allow athletic directors to give approval to coaches, for example.