KHSD board to consider new policy restricting employee contact with students

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Kern High School District is looking to impose new limitations on student/employee contact after several employees were arrested for inappropriate contact with students.

The KHSD Board of Trustees will consider approving a new policy at its meeting tonight that would set rules for what kinds of contact faculty, staff and other professionals can and shouldn’t have with students. 

If approved, this would be the first policy in the district focused solely on employee/student boundaries, according to the district. The policy would also apply to volunteers, community members and any other adults on campus. 

“The interactions and relationships between employees and students should be based upon mutual respect and trust, and an understanding of the appropriate boundaries between adults and students in and outside of the educational setting,” the policy states. “Relationships between adults and students should also be consistent with the educational mission of the schools.”

KHSD’s existing policies hit on the issue of inappropriate contact between students and employees in a general way, prohibiting such things as “engaging in inappropriate socialization or fraternization with a student” and “physically abusing, sexually abusing, neglecting or otherwise willfully harming or injuring a child.”

The new policy, however, goes into detail about what types of contact are and aren’t allowed between adults and students. 

The policy says adults should avoid being alone with a student out of the view of other adults, inviting or allowing students to visit their home, visiting a student’s home unless required as well as staying on campus with student(s) after the administrator leaves the school site.

The policy also cracks down on electronic communications between personnel and students. Employees would be directed under the policy to only communicate with students for educational purposes and avoid any personal electronic contact with a student without including parents and/or a school official. 

The policy would also ban the use of any apps that eliminate all traces or records of a communication, such as Snapchat, when communicating with students. 

There are exemptions to some of these rules, such as if there’s an emergency situation. 

Violations of the policy can result in “disciplinary action up to and including dismissal” and could be reported to law enforcement. Any employee who has knowledge of inappropriate behavior but fails to report it could face similar action. 

The new policy comes after several KHSD employees have been investigated since 2018 for possible sexual misconduct involving students. 

Former Liberty High boys basketball coach and teacher Jeff Hicks was charged in December for annoying a child under 18 years of age. The charge was dropped in August after Hicks agreed to four years of probation and paying a $570 fine, according to the Kern County Superior Court. 

Edwin Rodriguez, who worked at North High as an athletic equipment manager, was arrested in February on suspicion of having inappropriate contact with at least 10 students. He has a preliminary hearing set for December. 

Regional Occupational Center teacher Johnny Gray Watson was arrested in March 2018 on suspicion of inappropriately texting a student. However, Watson was acquitted by a county jury earlier this year after the student admitted to plotting with another student to obtain evidence to frame him.

The district is dealing with several lawsuits alleging the district didn’t do enough to address the inappropriate behavior of Hicks and Rodriguez prior to their arrests.

KHSD has not yet responded to questions of what led to this policy being presented now or whether the recent investigations played a significant role. 

The KHSD board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in KHSD’s EOC building at 5801 Sundale Avenue. 

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