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African Teachers  Association-USA


2510 Hamilton Avenue ,Baltimore , MD 21214 .Tel: 443-744-5328

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Excerpts from " Teach but Don't Touch" by Michael D. Simpson, NEA Office of General Counsel

Whenever possible, never be alone with a student.  That’s because a student’s allegations made when there are  no other witnesses hinge on credibility, and authorities often  tend to favor the alleged victim in these circumstances. So  don’t be alone with a student in a house or a car, and never  give a student a ride home. To the extent possible, avoid being alone with a student in a classroom. Risky situations include: one-on-one tutoring, counseling, after-school or recess detention, and make-up tests.  If you can’t avoid being alone with a student at school, keep the door  open and stay in plain sight.

Always maintain a professional demeanor and distance. That means: no flirting, teasing, or joking about sex.  Don’t socialize with students or treat them as “pals” or “friends.”  Never give gifts, unless you give one to every student, and don’t single out any one student for constant special attention or flattery.  Never send e-mails, text messages, or cards to students unrelated to schoolwork. Don’t ask students about their social lives or comment on their personal appearance and avoid discussing intimate details of your own private life.  Don’t hire students to babysit or allow them to visit your home. Be the  adult and maintain boundaries.

Avoid physical contact with students. This is a particularly difficult area. Younger children often seek and need physical comfort from their teachers who, sadly, may be the only source  of compassion and love that some students have. In the early elementary grades, an occasional hug is probably OK. But as a general rule, it’s best to avoid most forms of physical contact, especially kissing, hair stroking, tickling, and frontal hugging.  And use common sense: a “high five” to acknowledge a job well done is fine; a slap on the bottom is not.  

Male teachers have to be especially careful when it comes to physical contact of any sort. While a female teacher’s touch may be perceived as comforting, a male teacher’s may be viewed as sexually suggestive. And male employees are far more likely to be accused of inappropriate contact with students than  female employees. According to one expert, accusations  involving female teachers and male students make up less than  5 percent of the cases.

Avoid using physical force to enforce discipline. When  students are misbehaving or out of control, avoid touching  or grabbing them to get their attention.  Instead, use verbal  commands and other disciplinary methods.   There may be a rare occasion when you will have to use  physical force in self-defense or to prevent injury to others.  If that happens, use the minimum force necessary to prevent  harm and immediately call for help.  Also, if this is a persistent problem, you may want to ask your district for special training.

Never allow a student to obsess over you. While a crush can be flattering, it also can be fatal, so always nip it in the  bud. An unfulfilled fantasy can result in a student acting out  to gain attention or retaliating for being ignored. If a student  expresses a love interest, respond with an unambiguous “no.”

Don’t equivocate and certainly don’t encourage the student by  acting pleased by the attention. It’s also advisable to share this  information with another adult and your Association representative. In some circumstances, it may be appropriate to tell your supervisor and ask that the student be transferred.

Be particularly wary of “troubled” students. This is a tough one. Some students come to school with a host of emotional needs and chronic problems, and they may confide in their classroom teacher and ask for support and guidance. Particularly for a student with emotional problems, a teacher’s efforts to help unfortunately can be misconstrued as something more and may lead to an infatuation or dependence. Plus you don’t have the skills or training needed  to assist.  While you can and should express concern and compassion, don’t take on the role of confidant or counselor. Instead, refer the student to the school counselor, a trained professional who has both the expertise to assess what services the student may need and the experience to know how to arrange for the delivery of those services to the student.

Be especially vigilant if you hold certain teaching positions. Anecdotal evidence suggests that employees who perform certain jobs are at increased risk of false allegations. These include athletic coaches and performing arts teachers —drama, band, chorus, and debate, as well as publications advisers. This trend may be the product of the intense nature of such activities, which may weaken teacher/student boundaries, coupled with a substantial amount of after-school, weekend, and off-campus contact.  This publication was prepared by Michael D. Simpson, NEA Office  of General Counsel, with input and assistance from attorneys for numerous NEA state affiliates. September 2006


You also might be sued for damages by the alleged victim and/or the parents. Under the EEL Program, all NEA members are covered for claims up to $1 million in civil lawsuits against them for damages and attorneys’ fees arising out of their employ­ment activities. The policy kicks in after any insurance available through the school district, and is subject to several exclusions. Check with your state Association for additional information about the scope of coverage under the EEL Program

When I answered the door that cold, dismal morning in December, I faced two detectives from the police department.

“Are you Michael Gallagher?” one asked.


“Someone’s filed a complaint against you, and we want you to come to the station with us.” Confused and dazed, I asked if I should call a lawyer.

“No,” they said, so I didn’t. That was my first big mistake.

At the station, my wife and I were put in separate rooms. Both of us were questioned.

I was told that a student I taught 12 years ago had accused me of sexually molesting her, raping her 20 times.

I was flabbergasted! Who would make such an accusation? The police named a girl in my fifth-grade class in 1985. I couldn’t really place her. That had been a good class, and only a few stu­dents stood out.

I answered the detectives’ questions, permitted them to search my house, and even took a polygraph. These were all big mistakes on my part.

When I was released after seven grueling hours, I finally used my common sense and called my Pennsylvania State Education Association attorney. Upset that I’d waited so long to call, he made quick plans to represent me.

Incredibly, a month later, on January 22, 1998, I was arrested and placed in a cell for three hours before my bail arraign­ment. To my surprise and horror, every television camera in the Delaware Valley filmed me, in handcuffs, accompanied by two uniformed officers, walking into the courthouse.

With little formality, the judge set a preliminary hearing date and bail, and I was released on my own recognizance — with one condition. I could have no contact with children whatsoever.

The school board suspended me immediately without pay. I then began the longest journey of my life, aided by the unending support of my entire family, district teachers, and friends.

While waiting for trial, the state attempted to remove my teaching certification. The notice stated that an indictment or arrest was, in effect, as good as a conviction.

Finally, in October, an assistant district attorney, at our urging, questioned my accuser again. The young woman contradicted her earlier testimony and failed a polygraph test. She had lied about everything.

A few days later, at a news conference, the district attorney’s office announced my total exoneration. The media—from local newspapers to Dateline NBC—picked up the story.

Here are some tips:

• If accused by any law enforcement officer, never talk without an attorney. Don’t feel compelled to discuss your innocence.

• If you are not under arrest, don’t go with the police—your attorney can make these arrangements.

• Talk with no one about the accusation except your attorney and immediate family members.

• Be wary of any law enforcement agency. Most are ethical, some are not.

• Always remember, there’s a tendency for administrators and police to believe the accuser, not you.

• Above all, be cautious. I wasn’t.