The Alabama Legislature is working to enforce a new code of ethics for educators and cracking down on the inappropriate behaviors found in schools.
The new code of ethics contains provisions regarding conduct standards for teachers, unlawful acts and maintenance of student confidentiality.
According to the new code of ethics, teachers can be disciplined if they engage in behaviors such as using inappropriate language on school grounds, failing to provide adequate supervision to students and exposing students to unnecessary embarrassment.
“The code protects the health, safety and general welfare of students and educators; outlines objective standards of conduct for professional educators; and clearly defines actions of an unethical nature for which disciplinary sanctions are justified,” reads the code’s introductory text.
“I support the Alabama Education Association (AEA), but (the new code) could be abused,” said Jason Wright, principal of Auburn Junior High School. “One concern I have is that the language is so vague.”
Joey Jones, a senior in finance, said he agrees with Wright that the language of the code of ethics could be broadly interpreted.
“Unnecessary embarrassment is very broad,” Jones said. “That could mean a teacher asks a kid a question and the kid gets embarrassed because he doesn’t know the answer. That isn’t the teacher’s fault.”
James Wright, Deputy State Superintendent of Education, has a different opinion on the code’s ambiguity. “In terms of the language being ‘vague,’ I would suggest that the code is a framework within which to function as a profession and includes a non-exhaustive listing of possible violations,” he said.
Vague language aside, Wright said he thinks that the new provisions to the code are a good idea. “This really puts some teeth into the old code."
Wright also said that he doesn’t anticipate many changes at his school because of the revisions to the ethics code. “We try to employ the best professionals with the highest integrity and good character,” he said. “We give out handouts to our teachers on their first day and (character) is one of the things covered.”
Wright said he also plans to discuss the new code with his staff when they return to school in the fall.
Cathy Long, principal of Auburn High School, said she agreed that the code should be discussed with her staff.
“We gave all of our teachers a copy of the most recent code this past year laminated for their classrooms,” Long said. “I do think it is something that we must revisit with our staff on an annual basis. I feel all of my teachers are very professional and are aware of their professional responsibilities.”
Bice also said that he thinks most of the state’s educators have a good understanding of what is expected of them.
“I would say from direct observation and experience that the vast majority of our teachers, administrators and support staff come to work daily with a strong ethical responsibility to their children and their profession and therefore this Code of Ethics only serves to recognize and verify their approach to their work which will not nor should change as a result of this action,” Bice said. “As an educator I welcome this Code of Ethics as it is one more step toward defining our profession at a level of others who have a responsibility for the health, welfare and education of our children.”