Alexandra Schroeck is the Manager of Communications and Legislative Affairs for the Association of American Educators, a nationwide non-union educators’ organization.
More than a year ago, Sarah Walters* was a well‐liked virtual school teacher living in a small community in Colorado. Sarah had taught at a suburban school in its close knit community for more than five years before transferring to a new, virtual school for increased career flexibility where she received many awards. It was in this position that the rug was swiftly pulled out from under her after she was fired for contact deemed “inappropriate” by school administrators.
The chaos that ensued was an eye-opener. While Sarah often spoke to students on her cell phone after school hours, a mistakenly dialed call from a local bar and resulting muffled voicemail on a student’s cell phone was a mistake that cost Ms. Walters her job.
Liability Insurance in the Digital Age
These types of stories are more common than you think, particularly in the virtual school community. With technology moving at a break‐neck pace, teachers are communicating and interacting with students using mediums with little oversight, including social media and personal cell phones. In reality, with increased interaction comes the increase of potential accusations of misconduct.
It’s critical for all virtual school educators to be well-versed in their school’s policies regarding student communication and appropriate platforms. While a teacher may see no harm in creating a Facebook study group, or texting a student about an assignment, these simple private forms of communication can be potentially career ending.
AAE Director of Legal Services Sharon Nelson cautions teachers with regard to texting. “The problem with texting in particular is no matter how well-meaning a teacher may be in using texting, they often get caught in a political crossfire and it’s very difficult for them to defend themselves,” she said. “It’s very hard to obtain copies of those text messages so teachers can exonerate themselves.”
The fact is in today’s litigious society you can never be too careful. No matter how insolated you think you may be from harm, or the close‐knit your community you teach in, misunderstandings, accusations, and accidents are common when working with some else’s children.
While otherwise excellent teachers like Ms. Walters learn the hard way, teachers need to see this story as a lesson and obtain quality professional educators insurance to protect their careers and livelihood. Membership in a professional association, like the Association of American Educators, provides both individual liability insurance and assistance with employment rights issues to all teachers.
The Case for Liability Insurance Today
It’s critical to insure items that are valuable – your home, your car, your health, and yes, your career. Losing certification or a tarnished reputation can be a game changer for an educator left unprotected. Other professionals, such as medical doctors, would not dream of practicing without liability (or malpractice) insurance. In today’s world, teachers should not interact with children without professional educators insurance covering them personally.
Unfortunately, the reality is that teachers are threatened legally everyday and the number of lawsuits filed each year grows exponentially. Membership in AAE provides peace of mind so that if a teacher were to find them self in disciplinary situation or were unsure of their employment rights, they would have immediate access to an attorney familiar with these types of issues.
Further, AAE is a great fit for virtual school teachers. Leading a coalition of over 300,000 non-union educators across the country, AAE members are forward-thinking professionals eager to embrace new technologies. According to the 2011 Membership Survey, 85 percentof AAE member teachers are already incorporating technology in their lesson plans at least some of the time. Another 58 percent agree with a policy that would phase out textbooks with digital content, including interactive and adaptive multimedia. As the teaching profession evolves to incorporate these innovative practices, AAE is committed to supporting all educators as professionals with quality products and services for the 21st century.
For more information about the Association of American Educators, visit www.aaeteachers.org