Illinois Adopts New Laws Targeting Appropriate Staff-Student Boundaries and Prevention of Sexual Abuse in Schools

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Governor Pritzker recently signed Public Act 102-0676 (HB 1975) into law, which addresses sexual abuse prevention in schools. The new law is intended to address staff-student boundaries and appropriate professional conduct, the risks of breaches of staff-student boundaries, and training on sexual abuse and reporting requirements for incidents of sexual abuse against students. The provisions of the new law applicable to schools become effective July 1, 2022.

School districts, charter schools, and non-public schools are required to develop an employee code of professional conduct policy to prevent sexual misconduct with students. The new law defines “sexual misconduct” as acts by a school employee or agent that are directed toward or with a student to establish a romantic or sexual relationship with the student. The law goes on to state that such acts of sexual misconduct may include, but are not limited to:

  • Sexual or romantic invitations
  • Dating or soliciting a date
  • Engaging in sexualized or romantic dialog
  • Making sexually suggestive comments directed toward a student
  • Self-disclosure or physical exposure of a sexual, romantic, or erotic nature
  • A sexual, indecent, romantic, or erotic contact with a student

The employee code of professional conduct policy must, among other requirements, identify expectations for school employees and agents on maintaining professional relationships with students, including expectations for staff-student boundaries. To satisfy this requirement, the policy must establish guidelines for certain situations, such as transporting students, taking or possessing photos or videos of students, and meeting with or contacting a student outside of the employee’s professional capacity. In addition, the policy must incorporate the Code of Ethics for Illinois Educators and the definition of “sexual misconduct.” The policy must also reference the required employee training and reporting requirements under the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act and Title IX.

Pursuant to the new law, violations of the employee code of professional conduct policy or failure to report a violation of the policy may subject an employee to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal. Public Act 102-0676 requires the employee code of professional conduct policy to be posted on the school district, charter school, or non-public school’s website and be included in any staff, student, and/or parent handbook beginning July 1, 2022. Districts and schools should consult with their counsel about potential collective bargaining implications. Additionally, by July 1, 2023, ISBE is required, in consultation with stakeholders, to create a resource guide with sexual abuse response and prevention resources, and schools must notify families of the guide at the start of each school year.

The new law also amends the Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act to add “grooming” as conduct that constitutes abuse of a child.

In addition to the requirements above, school districts are also required to adopt and implement a policy addressing sexual abuse of children by July 1, 2022. The policy must include evidence-informed curriculum, training, and educational information, as well as materials and instruction on prohibited grooming behaviors and boundary violations for school personnel and how to report such behaviors, pursuant to Public Act 102-0610, which amends Erin’s law.

School district clients that subscribe to IASB’s model policy service already have access to a model employee code of professional conduct policy and policy addressing sexual abuse of children that can assist districts with meeting the requirements of both Public Act 102-0610 and Public Act 102-0676.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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