District officials teach ways to prevent inappropriate contact

Published 10:06 am Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The following story originally appeared in the Herald print edition with the “Waiting for closure” special report.

Mary Burroughs, director of human resources for Austin Public Schools, said the district trains teachers about the dangers of physical contact with students, regardless of the intention. Current policies may be different from those in place from 1990-1994, when Francis Skinness was working at Banfield Elementary. Teachers are discouraged from having students sit on their laps, hugging students and even from patting students on the back, she said. Burroughs said teachers are reminded of those guidelines if they are seen touching a student.

“What we tell teachers, because interactions many times can be misunderstood, is anytime you’re in a public role working with kids, you have to be extremely cautious of what you’re doing and how it could be interpreted,” Burroughs said. “If we see it, we tell teachers not to do it — that’s with any touching.”

Burroughs said some teachers have gone so far as to ask her if it’s appropriate to high-five their students.

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From what she has seen, Burroughs said criminal sexual allegations against teachers are rare.

“I don’t get a lot of allegations like that,” she said. “I just don’t.”