The two previous opinion pieces that I have written about the activities in the Pell City School system about events that have recently captured the attention of local citizens, focused on the action of individuals and actions of school employees and that have resulted in several legal investigations. These investigations focus on violations of the laws related to improper personal relationships between adults and students. Violation of the laws relating to sexual behavior represents a severe violation of the law. There is another area that should be of concern to the citizens of our community.
There is an additional layer of restrictions imposed on school activities, restrictions that are described in the Alabama Educator Code of Ethics. The code of ethics describes not only those action that are not allowed but also describes the actions that are to be encouraged. The code of ethics intends not only to limit the activities of school staff to prevent legal violations but describes those actions that should be encouraged to develop a positive learning environment in the education system.
It might be an unrealistic expectation to believe that proper enforcement of the rules described in the Alabama Educator Code of Ethics would eliminate all improper behavior on campus, but it is realistic to believe that with proper staff education, the rules would reduce or preclude most of the violations now being investigated. A more important result of proper implementation and enforcement of the ethics code would be the improvement of the learning environment at the schools. It should be noted that the code of ethics protects both students and teachers while encouraging the development of a professional learning environment.
Rules, rules, and more rules are only as effective as the implementation and enforcement of the rules. It is in the area of enforcement that there has been a significant failure. The simple fact that there have been multiple acts of such a serious nature as to deserve a legal investigation illustrates the school system’s failure to properly implement and enforce the ethics code.
The proper investigation, and if appropriate, prosecution of legal violations will not correct the problems noted at the high school. The Pell City School Board should implement programs and procedures that inform the students and the entire school system staff of the requirements of the Alabama Educators Code of Ethics and the consequences of violating that code. The School Board should encourage the staff to strive to achieve the level of professionalism that is encouraged by the code of ethics. The actions of the school board that support the implementation and enforcement of the code of ethics will never be effective if the board does not provide school staff the support required to ensure total compliance to the code.
Individuals I have spoken with that have personal knowledge of the activities that led to the current legal investigations all state that these actions were not a secret. Some of the initial efforts that were made to raise the awareness of improper actions led to dismissal of the accuser. There must be a process that allows improper activities to be identified and investigated. Those that would shoot the messengers need to be removed from the system. Predators prey on the timid, those that they believe don’t have the courage to confront them publicly. Sexual predators depend on the fear they instill in good people to prevent the exposure of their acts. If the school environment is to be morally safe, individuals with knowledge of improper behavior of staff or students should understand that they can safely refer such acts to the school administration for a proper investigation and resolution.
It is not enough for the school board to depend on the compliance with the rules that forbid activities. A major portion of the code focuses on the creation of an environment that would encourage excellence. The people of Pell City should understand that the school system is owned by the tax payers, and we have the right to demand that the school administration strive for excellence in education. The proof of that pursuit of excellence will be confirmed not by the words of politicians but by the performance of students.
Ed Tyler lives in Pell City. He may be reached at email@example.com