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No Hugs At School

YOUNG children seeking a hug or cuddle will be discouraged by teachers under new guidelines outlining appropriate conduct between teachers and students.
And teachers will now be encouraged to use verbal rather than physical directions, particularly during dance and sport activities.
The State Government says the measures have been developed to protect teachers but the union fears they are too rigid in parts and do not balance good intentions of teachers or the context of their actions.
The guidelines, a joint initiative of the State Government, SA Association of Independent Schools and Catholic Education SA, will be sent to all schools, preschools and out of school hours care services this week.
"Never before have we had such a focus in South Australia on the need to protect and provide safe environments for children," Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said yesterday.
Under the guidelines, teachers should not initiate student tickling games or massages, drive a student unaccompanied or attend students' homes or social gatherings for personal reasons.
It also outlines ways for staff to respond to inappropriate behaviour between students and teachers, managing boundaries when working one-on-one with a student, and appropriate physical contact and restraint.
Australian Education Union SA president Andrew Gohl said the guidelines had put teachers "on notice".
"What we have to be careful of is not making these sorts of guidelines so prescriptive that it limits our ability to provide comfort to children," he said.
"The protection of children is paramount but it has to be balanced against the protection of our members with vindictive claims."
Dr Lomax-Smith said the move was "not about preventing teachers from touching children but making sure that they understand and respect boundaries".
"Caring, protective and encouraging forms of touch are healthy and are important to all humans, particularly in times of distress," she said.
Mr Gohl said the guidelines provided several pertinent questions teachers should ask themselves to weigh up different incidents.
But he questioned the violation of teachers attending students' homes or personal social gatherings.
"If you live in a country community there are those social situations you can't preclude," Mr Gohl said.
Education and Children's Services Department chief executive Steven Marshall said it was important teachers were provided with advice and support on the issue.
"We have put our heads together to get the best guidelines possible but we need to see them in practice but certainly if they need modification, we are open to that," he said.
Association of Independent Schools of SA executive director Garry Le Duff said the association would encourage its member schools to use the guidelines when developing child protection policies. "Teachers and school leaders have been concerned about this for some time," he said.
Catholic Education director Allan Dooley said the guidelines followed a series of child protection strategies initiated by the Adelaide Archdiocese in recent years.
Last year, six teachers were deregistered by the Teachers Registration Board for improper conduct or sexual offences relating to children.


AAP (19-6-2005)

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