Teachers to Face Criminal Charges for Taking Student Gifts?

One aspect of a new Alabama ethics ruling will prohibit teachers from accepting any kind of gift, card or token as it may be interpreted as bribery, writes Janice D’Arcy at the Washington Post.

Other states have been a little less heavy-handed by outlining certain gift-giving guidelines to ensure parents and students don’t misguidedly overstep the mark. However, Alabama’s new law means that any teacher who is caught in violation could receive jail time and a fine of up to $6000.

The Alabama Ethics Commission ruled teachers must abide by the same conflict-of-interest laws as lobbyists because “The suggestion that it is harmless for a school child to give a Christmas gift to their teacher ignores the potential for abuse,” says the Associated Press.

“I’ve seen it all,  from tattered and beloved personal items like stuffed animals … to a Hermes Scarf, $300 Macy’s gift card, coach wristlet, Italian wool scarf and gloves, etc,” said one teacher.

“I loved those gifts but definitely felt uncomfortable about them.”

“I don’t think teachers treat the kids any differently based on gifts but when a parent goes overboard (especially the parent of a difficult student),” she continued.

“It puts the teacher in an awkward position, like you owe them something. But I think most teachers know enough not to let gifts interfere with the cold hard facts about their child’s behavior. learning, grades, etc.”

In an advisory opinion, the Ethics Commission said “hams, turkeys or gift cards with a specific monetary value are not permissible.” However, smaller items, such as homemade cookies, coffee mugs and fruit baskets, are acceptable.

The commission didn’t go as far as to give a dollar amount for acceptable student-teacher gifts.

Republican Sen. Bryan Taylor sponsored the law, saying that essentially the law is about protection. It covers teachers against accusations of favoritism to students who give them big gifts. He pointed out that it also avoids embarrassment for low-income students.

“In every classroom, there is a Tiny Tim who can’t afford a turkey or ham,” Taylor said.

The law was triggered by an indictment case that implicated four legislators and two lobbyists on corruption, being one of the first bills to be approved by Republican legislators after the November 2010 state elections.