MONTGOMERY, Ala. – An Alabama lawmaker who introduced legislation to educate teachers on appropriate social media contact and relationships with students quickly canned the idea after teachers heckled him on Twitter.
Alabama Sen. Cam Ward introduced Senate Bill 274 to require educators to take a one hour class about appropriate interactions with students to help address a nationwide epidemic of teachers sexually abusing or engaging in inappropriate online contact with students, the Times Daily reports.
The legislation, which Ward said spawned from conversations with public education groups, passed the senate’s Education Policy Committee last week, would not add to training costs for schools because the class is already offered voluntarily, but the bill would make attendance mandatory.
The training outlined in the legislation would cover sexual or romantic contact between students and teachers, social media interactions, interactions outside of school, and the use of physical restraints in the classroom. It covers state laws, local policies, and best practices, according to the news site.
The bill tasked the state superintendent, state superintendents association, and the Alabama Education Association with developing the training program, AL.com reports.
“There are a lot of things in society that we used to not have to worry about that we do now … technology has changed,” Ward said. “It’s just the times we live in.”
Madison City Schools Superintendent Dee Fowler seems to agree.
“Every time you look at the TV, every time you look at any media, you see where a teacher and student have done things that are just not acceptable,” Fowler told WHNT. “We have got to put stop guards in place, we have got to educate and make sure that our teachers know that this is not acceptable.”
But virtually as quickly as the bill was passed out of committee, Ward’s bill met fierce resistance from educators online who resented the proposed training and lashed out at the senator.
Alabama kindergarten teacher Melanie Otwell and seventh-grade English as a second language teacher Crystal Watford were especially critical of the legislation.
“The Educator-Student Interaction Training Act is a waste of the government’s time @SenCamWard. Do you really think so poorly of teachers?” Watford wrote to Ward on Twitter.
“Crystal i(t) was actually educators who drafted the bill and helped pass it,” Ward tweeted back. “No new costs. It’s already voluntary.”
“Even the release mentioned the various educator groups who complemented the and endorsed the bill,” Ward wrote.
“@SenCamWard Thanks for adding t a teacher’s full plate! You guys just seem 2 have it out for us! Do u have 2 sit in this training as well?” Otwell posted to Twitter.
“Melanie this was educator driven and the only reason I did was because of request from education groups,” Ward wrote back.
Otwell continued in several more tweets:
“@SenCamWard No 1 talked to any educator I know. What groups are you speaking of? Dedicated 20 yrs of my life 2 teaching & very frustrated!”
“@SenCamWard Everytime we turn around someone in state gov. is doing something to make our jobs harder. Let us teach the kids of Alabama!”
“@SenCamWard Never heard of class?? Just hat that we are being made to look like the bad guys. We do what we do 4 the kids not for any gain”
Others, like Senate Education Committee chairman Dick Brewbaker, denounced Ward’s bill in the media.
“The whole thing is absurd,” Brewbaker told the Times Daily. “We’re to the point where we have to tell teachers to keep their hands off students? I mean, come on.”
“Teachers who have inappropriate relations with students aren’t doing it because they don’t know it’s wrong.”
The relentless tweeting and complaining paid off, and Ward vowed to shelve his important legislation in a Twitter post yesterday.
“I wont move bill any further. Thought I was helping educators who came to me. Won’t do any further. My apologies,” he wrote. “I’ve never tried to make my teachers look bad. My child in public school & support my teachers.”
Ward’s decision to bail on addressing educator sexual misconduct comes amid a nationwide news project led by USA Today that’s uncovered numerous serious issues with teachers who prey on students in schools.
The Times Daily report highlights more than a half-dozen high profile cases in Alabama of educators accused of sexually abusing students in recent years. The site also highlights state statistics that show reports of sex or violence between educators and students has increased from 25 and 14 respectively in 2011 to 46 and 32 last year.