5:120-AP2E Exhibit-Expectations and Guidelines for Employee-Student Boundaries

105 ILCS 5/10-23.13, Erin’s Law, requires this exhibit’s discussion. Use this exhibit to structure local conversations around what the District will include for its examples of expectations and guidelines about professional boundaries in employee-student relationships. Finalization of this exhibit requires a conversation among district administrators and employees to customize it based upon the ages, grade levels, and developmental levels of the students served, as well as local conditions.

All District employees must maintain professional employee-student boundaries and relationships with students. This includes meeting expectations and following guidelines established by the District for employee-student boundaries. These expectations and guidelines apply to all professional, educational support, and contracted District employees. If they conflict with an applicable collective bargaining agreement, the provision is severable and the applicable bargaining agreement will control.

The District understands that employees may have pre-existing relationships with families of students outside of school. These expectations and guidelines do not apply to employee-student relationships based in pre-existing relationships, including nuclear or extended families. These expectations and guidelines are not intended to prohibit such interactions, provided that an awareness of employee-student boundaries is maintained at all times. This document is not exhaustive, and an employee may be disciplined for boundary violations that are not specifically listed.

Employee-Student Boundaries

The relationship between students and school employees is an inherently unequal imbalance of power because school employees are in a unique position of trust, care, authority, and influence in relation to students. District employees breach employee-student boundaries when they misuse their position of power over a student in a way that compromises the student’s health, safety, or general welfare. Employee-student boundaries are categorized into four areas that are not mutually exclusive:

  • Emotional Boundaries – both the employee’s own emotional state and self-regulation as well as students’ emotional states and developmental abilities to self-regulate.
  • Relationship/Power Boundaries – recognizing, as noted above, that the employee-student relationship is unequal and employees must safeguard against misusing positions of power.
  • Communication Boundaries – how and what employees communicate to students, including communication that is verbal, nonverbal, in person, or via electronic means.
  • Physical Boundaries – physical contact between employees and students.

While some employee-student boundaries are clear and easy to recognize, there are some unclear, grey areas that employees must plan for and respond to with sound judgment. This means recognizing the potential negative consequences for students and/or employees engaging in certain behaviors with students or allowing inappropriate conduct to continue. Employees may use time, place, and circumstances as a guiding principle by asking themselves:

  • Is this the appropriate time for my planned action?
  • Have I chosen the appropriate place for the planned action?
  • Are these appropriate circumstances for me to take my planned action?

To avoid behavior or conduct which may lead to a breach in employee-student boundaries, employees should also recognize their own unique vulnerabilities. Examples of vulnerabilities that employees may experience include, but are not limited to:

  • Employees regarding students as peers
  • Employees who too closely identify with students and their issues
  • Employees experiencing adult relationship issues
  • Immature employees, or employees with an under-developed moral compass
  • Employees feeling a need for attention
  • Employees who abuse alcohol or other substances
  • Employees who lack personal crisis management skills

Employees experiencing difficulties in their personal lives may be particularly susceptible to engaging in at-risk behavior or conduct with students. Employees must be alert to such risks and ensure they maintain professional boundaries at all times. The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics’ Framework for Ethical Decision-Making may help employees evaluate and address conduct that concerns them. See www.scu.edu/ethics/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/.

Guidelines for Specific Boundary Areas

Customize based upon the ages, grade levels, and developmental levels of the students served.

Boundary Area Inappropriate Appropriate
Emotional Favoring certain students by inviting them to your classroom at non-instructional times to “hang out.”

Favoring certain students by giving them special privileges.

Engaging in peer-like behavior with students.

Discussing personal issues with students.

Inviting students who need additional instructional support to your classroom for such additional support.

Conducting one-on-one student conferences in a classroom with the door open.

Relationship/Power Meeting with a student off-campus without parent/guardian knowledge and/or permission.

Dating, requesting, or participating in a private meeting with a student (in person or virtually) outside your professional role.

Transporting a student in a school or private vehicle without administrative authorization.

Giving gifts, money, or treats to individual students.

Sending students on personal errands.

Intervening in serious student problems instead of referring the student to an appropriately trained professional.

A sexual or romantic invitation toward or from a student.

Taking and using photos/videos of students for non-educational purposes.

Meeting with a student off-campus with parent/guardian knowledge and/or permission, e.g., when providing pre-arranged tutoring or coaching services.

Transporting a student in a school or private vehicle with administrative authorization.

Taking and using photos/videos of students for educational purposes, with student and parent/guardian consent, while abiding by student records laws, policies, and procedures.

Communication Initiating or extending contact with a student beyond the school day in a one-on-one or non-group setting.

Inviting students to your home.

Adding students on personal social networking sites as contacts when unrelated to a legitimate educational purpose.

Privately messaging students by any means.

Maintaining intense eye contact.

Making comments about a student’s physical attributes, including excessively flattering comments.

Engaging in sexualized or romantic dialog.

Making sexually suggestive comments directed toward or with a student.

Disclosing confidential information.

Self-disclosure of a sexual, romantic, or erotic nature.

Limiting communication to what is necessary for educational and/or extracurricular activities.

Using District-approved methods for communicating with students.

Physical Full frontal hugs.

Invading personal space.

Massages, shoulder rubs, neck rubs, etc.

Lingering touches or squeezes.


Having a student on your lap.

Physical exposure of a sexual, romantic, or erotic nature.

Sexual, indecent, romantic, or erotic contact with a student.

Assisting a young student or a student with special needs with a toileting issue without obtaining parent/guardian permission.

Occasionally patting a student on the back, shoulder, or arm.

Momentary physical contact with limited force designed to prevent a student from completing an act that would result in potential physical harm to the student or another person or damage to property; or to remove a disruptive student who is unwilling to leave the area voluntarily.

Assisting a young student or a student with special needs with a toileting issue when parent/guardian permission has been granted.

Cross References:  

5:120-AP2 Employee Conduct Standards

Legal References:

105 ILCS 5/10-23.13, Erin’s Law

Date Adopted:  October 25, 2022