Troy Hutchings, Ed.D.
Senior Policy Advisor, NASDTEC
The Emerging Playbook: Reexamining Professional Obligations in a Virtual Classroom
The beginning of the 2020-2021 school year is undoubtedly unlike any other.
“There are so many moving parts that I feel like my head is about to spin off my torso,” replied one
high school principal after I asked her about the reopening of school.
An elementary school administrator told me that she finds herself repeating the same phrase, “I don’t have a playbook for this one,” when responding to the barrage of questions from parents and teachers.
She is right – the sudden reshaping of our educational system was not a part of anyone’s playbook. But that underscores our professional obligation to anticipate the emergence of new ethical complications that result from those structural and pedagogical
This past week I reached out to attorney and author, Frederick Lane,
to help identify specific ethical issues that we should anticipate given this new landscape. Without hesitation, Fred listed five topics that he thought should be on everyone’s radar. His list includes concerns that may have even had established
procedures before the pandemic, but now need to be reexamined given the current reliance on remote learning and virtual interactions.
Furthermore, Fred agreed to frame each one of those issues in five consecutive Ethics and Educators blog posts. Today’s topic is mandated reporting, and over the upcoming weeks, Fred will be discussing student privacy, teacher privacy,
the slippery slope of virtual education, and the ethical issues related to technological competence.
Mandated Reporting in an Era of Remote Learning
The coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the world is, among so many other things, reshaping our educational systems. Many districts are opting for remote education or, at a minimum, implementing a hybrid of on-campus courses and distance learning. These new paradigms for instruction pose daunting challenges for educators, who now must learn new technology, revamp curricula, and in some cases, teach while simultaneously monitoring the remote learning of their own children.
Some things, however, remain unchanged. Among them are an educator’s ethical and legal obligations to note any threats to the health and safety of their students and to report suspected child abuse to the appropriate authorities. The exact standards and mechanisms for reporting will vary from state to state, so make sure you are familiar with the laws of your jurisdiction.
Educators often are the first to observe evidence of physical abuse or neglect, significant behavioral changes, or deprivations of food or sleep. Those observations may be less likely if students are not physically present in the classroom.
On the other hand, remote instruction provides teachers with a virtual window into the homes of their students. Perforce, this will enable them to see aspects of their lives that don’t always show up in the classroom. Is there something about the physical condition of the home itself that is worrisome? Is the child adequately dressed? Does the child seem uneasy or nervous? Is there verbal or physical abuse? Does another child in the home seem at risk?
School districts should devote some time over the coming months to this issue. Educators will need training on how to evaluate both the verbal and non-verbal information that they see on their screens. How does the remote learning environment affect a teacher’s mandatory reporting requirement? Given the potential litigation and criminal liability that can arise if an educator fails to make a mandated report, both educators and school districts have a vested interest in discussing and understanding the implications of this new form of pedagogy.
Professional ethics is not a static nor isolated component of our profession. It’s an agile and active process that requires reexamining our professional obligations in the light of an everchanging landscape. The new playbook of today’s schooling
challenges us to consider how the “virtual window” of remote learning impacts our legal responsibility as mandated reporters.
If your district, county, or state jurisdiction has created resources to assist educators with their mandated reporter obligations while teaching remotely, we invite you to share them with readers of Ethics and Educators
by using the comment boxes below.
We look forward to our next blog – Fred will be discussing the slippery slope of teacher-student interactions in light of our growing reliance on remote learning tools.
Frederick S. Lane is an author, educational consultant, and attorney based in New York. He is the author of ten books, including most recently Cybertraps for Expecting Moms & Dads, Raising Cyberethical Kids, and Cybertraps for Educators 2.0. All of his books are available through Amazon.com or his web sites, FrederickLane.com and Cybertraps.com