What to give? Teacher gifts mired by new law

Published 6:47 am Thursday, December 15, 2011

While Alabama residents are shopping for everyone on their Christmas list, there’s been a lot of discussion on what students and parents can and can’t give teachers this year.

Alabama’s ethics law, passed in last year’s Special Session, forbids public employees and officials from accepting anything “for the purpose of corruptly influencing official action. That law means a teacher who accepts any gift deemed extravagant could face a $6,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

What is allowed? Homemade treats, items of nominal value, coffee mugs and fruit baskets. The Alabama Ethics Commission didn’t give a dollar amount for student-teacher gifts, bud did advise “hams, turkeys, or gift cards with a specific monetary value are not permissible.”

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“It’s so early and fresh out of the legislature that we’re trying to wrap our minds around what this means,” said Dr. Boyd English, Charles Henderson High School principal.

Leaders at schools in Pike County are telling teachers it is at their discretion what they accept from students this holiday season.

“It’s unlikely for teachers to receive anything in excess anyway,” English said. “Really, this just muddies the water for parents who are just trying to show appreciation.”

English said if parents are uncertain of what is OK to give their children’s teacher, written words are always a good idea.

“A card or word of appreciation goes a long way,” English said. “I still keep letters of appreciation from parents and people who I feel like I made I difference in their lives.”

Troy Elementary School Vice Principal Teresa Sims said she thinks it is a great idea for people to give some sort of token to teachers.

“I think it is a nice thing anytime parents bring something the students have made,” Sims said. “It’s also nice when a parent contributes to a classroom.”

Sims further said that gift giving during the holidays is also a teaching tool.

“It’s important because parents are trying to teach kids to give back and to show appreciation for someone who means a lot to them.”