New Legislation Requires Web Posting and Annual Notice of Fraternization Policies
On October 8, 2017, the Governor signed Assembly Bill 500, which adds Section 44050 to the Education Code effective January 1, 2018. Assembly Bill 500 revived aspects of AB 2621, which was passed by the Legislature in 2016 but vetoed by the Governor.
Education Code section 44050 will require school districts, county offices of education, charter schools, and certain other educational agencies (including private schools) that maintain any provision within their codes of conduct for employees on employee interaction with pupils to (1) provide a written copy of the section on employee interactions with pupils to parents and guardians at the beginning of each school year; and (2) post the section on employee interactions with pupils on each school’s website, if they have one, or on the agency’s (district or county office’s) website if it has one. The information posted on websites must be accessible to the public without a password.
The similar legislation that was vetoed by the Governor in 2016 required dissemination and posting of the agency’s full employee code of conduct. When Governor Brown vetoed that legislation, he noted, "Employee codes of conduct can be many pages and cover several issues related to the employment of all district or school employees .... While well-intentioned, I am not convinced these documents specifically cover the behavior the author is targeting." In an apparent effort to remedy that objection, AB 500 merely requires dissemination of the section of the code of conduct relating to employee/pupil interactions.
Based on the Assembly Education Committee’s bill analysis, the apparent intention of the law is to create more awareness for students and parents/guardians of prohibited or inappropriate interactions between school staff and students. The bill analysis included the following input from AB 500’s author (Gomez):
Parents and students are not always aware of the existence of a school employee code of conduct with students. This can lead to many situations that affect the learning environment for students. In some extreme cases, these adverse situations can cause long term trauma to a student. This bill seeks to avoid many of these situations by increasing awareness of the school employee code of conduct. Teachers may benefit, too. The author’s office also provided information indicating that codes of conduct can benefit teachers and other school employees. For example, a code of conduct that discourages one-on-one meetings between a teacher and a student behind closed doors can help protect employees against false claims of misconduct.
While some educational agencies maintain specific policies that address "fraternization" and delineate specific examples of inappropriate interactions between students and staff, more commonly agencies have a "Professional Standards" Board Policy or Administrative Regulation or a "Code of Ethics" that provides, generally, that employees will exercise good judgment when interacting with students, or that employees will be courteous in their interactions with students. The new Education Code section 44050 does not require agencies to create policies specific to pupil/employee interactions if they do not otherwise have them. Education Code section 44050 is vague with regard to whether the commonplace general provisions in a Professional Standards or Ethics policy are "a section on employee interactions with pupils" so as to trigger the new publication obligations.
In short, by January 1, 2018, provisions related to employee/pupil interactions in policies, regulations, handbooks, or collective bargaining agreements must be posted to the websites (if any) of individual schools and the agency, and distributed to parents/guardians at the beginning of each school year (by AB 500’s reference to Education Code section 48980, it adds another requirement to the annual parent notifications).
AB 500 does not specify any particular consequence of noncompliance, and does not provide that complaints regarding noncompliance with new section 44050 would be enforced via the Uniform Complaint process. In the absence of specified consequences, such legislative mandates are enforced by the courts if a member of the public seeks a writ of mandate against the agency alleging noncompliance. Accordingly, agencies should review and gather relevant provisions and ensure they are posted on any websites before adjourning for winter break, and add the information to annual notifications for the 2018-2019 school year.
If you have any questions regarding this new legal obligation, please reach out to attorneys in any of our nine offices.