Nine Policy Provisions School Districts Need to Have In Place Under Nebraska’s New Anti-Grooming Law
As administrators geared up for the start of the 2021-22 school year, school districts had until June 30, 2021 to comply with Nebraska’s new Anti-Grooming law which requires Nebraska schools to implement specific policies addressing appropriate relationships between school employees (including teachers, coaches, practicum students, and student teachers) and their students.
All school districts should already have policies protecting students from sexual misconduct. Legislative Bill 1080, approved by Governor Ricketts on August 7, 2020, goes above and beyond prohibiting general sexual misconduct. The new law targets “grooming” behavior.
LB 1080 defines Grooming as: “building trust with a student and individuals close to the student in an effort to gain access to and time alone with the student, with the ultimate goal of engaging in sexual contact or sexual penetration with the student, regardless of when in the student's life the sexual contact or sexual penetration would take place.”
Technology has made after-hours contact between teachers and students easier than ever. Especially in a year where in-person instruction has been limited or completely eliminated, digital platforms are an important mode of communication about subjects, deadlines, practices, competitions, and every other aspect of a student’s academic experience. An important tool to protect against inappropriate student contact is a set of carefully drafted policies and protocols. Not only are these policies beneficial, they are now a requirement.
The new law requires public school boards and private school governing officials to adopt policies regarding appropriate relationships between students and school employees, including student teachers and practicum students (“interns”). These policies must include the following:
- A prohibition against grooming;
- A prohibition of any sexual relationship between a student and a school employee or a student teacher or intern. This prohibition lasts at least one year after the date of the student's graduation or the date the student otherwise ceases enrollment;
- Examples of grooming and related conduct deemed unacceptable;
- A procedure for a school employee or a student teacher or intern to verify the policy was received and understood;
- A procedure for reporting suspected grooming or other unacceptable conduct of a school employee or a student teacher or intern to the school or school district administration, the State Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and law enforcement;
- A description of the preferred methods for a school employee or a student teacher or intern to use in communicating with students, including which personal communication systems the board or governing authority has deemed permissible for such purpose;
- Notice that any violation of the policy by a school employee or a student teacher or intern may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal;
- Notice that any violation of the policy by certificated employees may result in referral to the State Department of Education and consequences including suspension or revocation of the employee's certificate; and
- Notice that any violation involving sexual or other abuse will result in referral to the Department of Health and Human Services, law enforcement, or both.
LB 1080 is silent as to penalties. Nevertheless, failure to comply with the statute will undoubtedly have severe consequences. In a time where student-teacher communications can be easily documented by screenshot or downloading messages, complaints against teachers for misconduct can develop rapidly. A school district that comes under fire for allegations of grooming will undoubtedly be asked to turn over its written policies on the subject in any ensuing criminal, civil, or administrative investigation. Timely preparation of strong, compliant policies are key to the defense of a claim against a teacher or employee for sexual harassment or grooming.
These policies and the internal training of staff will require thoughtful consideration by school officials. Contact a member of Koley Jessen’s Education Law team to discuss your district’s existing policies, and avoid missteps under this important statutory requirement