Hopewell Valley Regional Board of Education voted unanimously to approved revisions to the district’s policy and regulations in regards to inappropriate staff conduct.
The vote to approve these revisions occurred at a Dec. 16 board meeting and come on the heels of an October notice of tort of claim by a former Hopewell Valley student, related to an alleged sexual assault by Timberlane Middle School teacher Mark Amantia.
A tort claim expresses to a public agency that someone intends or is planning to file a lawsuit, according to New Jersey state officials.
“Based on recent events, the board felt it was important to review the policy and regulation related to inappropriate staff conduct. Several revisions were made to the regulation to reflect the procedures outlined in our memorandum of agreement with the police, parent notification and provide some more guidance to staff members,” Superintendent Thomas Smith said.
According to Smith, the Board felt is was important to provide guidance to the staff members like those who work with special needs students and/or very young students and often use various forms of physical guidance and prompting with a student in order to teach them and/or help them perform specific tasks such as self-care and self-help responses, academic tasks, social skills, gross and fine motor skills.
“The board also recognizes that physical guidance and prompting may be appropriate to facilitate skill development in sports, instrumental music, art and dance. The board will review these regulations each year because codes of conduct and socially acceptable behaviors and norms continue to change and evolve,” Smith said.
Some of the revisions include a language change specifically clarifying that staff members are not to touch students in any physically inappropriate manner. Prior to the change, the policy indicated that staff members should be mindful with physical conduct with students.
Another revision is the elimination of the grievance procedure, which is a procedure that provides for prompt and equitable resolution of inappropriate conduct or conduct unbecoming a school staff member.
District officials said in additional to their annual training, staff members will receive guidance regarding how they should interact with students.
“We have a committee that will develop guidelines for staff that will accompany the regulations,” Smith said.