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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Can a teacher take freebies from vendors of educational travel trips?



Every year, the Pasco County school district has teachers who organize international travel for students as a learning experience. On average, about 40 participants go on these tours.

The teachers have contracted with private vendors and helped organize the events. In return, they have received free spots on the trip, as well as points in a reward system that offers such things as iPads and tour upgrades.

Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning wondered if such a setup was acceptable. The concern arose because of past opinions finding a conflict of interest for public school teachers and coaches who hold outside employment or businesses that provide services to their own students.

So Browning had a lawyer inquire with the state ethics commission.

A draft opinion states that the practice as described is not acceptable:

"While it does not involve pay for the teacher (group leader) from students or their parents for tutoring or other services rendered to the student, it does involve a teacher's holding a contractual relationship with the tour vendor and receiving travel and other items of value, anchored in the recruitment of public school students for the tour. Such a situation is fraught with the same temptation for a teacher to act less than objectively toward students, depending on whether a student did or did not sign up for a tour ... "

If the vendor contracted with the district rather than with teachers, however, the commission opinion stated that the conflict of interest would be gone.

"Under this scenario, the district's, rather than the teacher's, administration and paramount role regarding tours, especially as to the award of free travel spots and vendor's rewards, promotes an objectivity that guards against a prohibited conflict of interest."

The final order has not been entered. What do you think about teachers' roles in providing services outside the classroom?

[Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2014 11:50am]


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