Alabama teachers could receive jail time for accepting Christmas gifts from students

posted at 1:50 pm on December 14, 2011 by Tina Korbe

This is a prime example of the way “the few” can ruin it for “the many.” Because a few parents have sent their kids to school bearing over-the-top presents for Teacher, the State of Alabama Ethics Commission has decided that some Christmas gifts equate to bribes. A new ruling from the Commission prohibits teachers from accepting certain gifts, including gift cards, hams and turkeys. The Washington Post’s Janice D’Arcy has more:

Many states and some individual schools ask that parents and teachers respect certain gift-giving guidelines, but Alabama’s law is far tougher than most. A teacher who is caught in violation could receive jail time and a fine of up to $6000.

According to an Associated Press story the Alabama Ethics Commission said teachers should have to 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.”

D’Arcy talked to a teacher friend of hers to find out whether teachers allow gifts to influence the way they treat students. Her friend says she does her best to not be influenced by presents — and that, particularly in the case of a child with behavioral problems, she’s not any more or less apt to overlook infractions because she did or didn’t receive a present.

On some level, the ethics ruling makes sense: Why not remove entirely the temptation to treat children differently according to the presents their parents prepare? But on another level, this is indicative of the general trend toward overcriminalization in our nation today. And overcriminalization has broad and negative consequences for our country. The proliferation of laws and prohibitions means both that more law enforcement becomes necessary and that laws are likely to be broken on a more regular basis, either because citizens aren’t aware of the law or because they find it petty. That, in turn, gradually erodes the rule of law.

Let’s apply the basic principle of subsidiarity here: The state is not “the most local level” at which this “problem” could be solved. Teachers ought to be able to solve this issue on their own. If they sense that they’re unduly influenced by presents, they could ask parents to refrain. Failing that, individual schools could establish gift policies.

Or, as an entirely different solution, we could accept that children with involved parents do have an advantage in school and life — and, instead of seeking to limit the activity of such parents, focus our time, attention and effort on encouraging absent parents to be a bit more present for their children.

Last thought: This ruling, as with so many senseless policies, assumes the primacy of the material over the personal or spiritual. That is, it assumes that material presents buy children an advantage immaterial presents — like gratitude, politeness and diligence in the classroom — could never purchase. But no doubt a heartfelt thank-you note to a teacher would, in most cases, curry just as much favor as an elaborate gift.


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If the name is changed to ‘advocating gay rights’ present, I’ll be the big gubmint won’t have a problem.

Sir Napsalot on December 14, 2011 at 3:34 PM

That creates an interesting dilemma for parents who home-school their children in Alabama. So much for the tennis bracelet I was going to give my wife for Christmas…

Sorry, it only applies to public employees, which she is decidedly NOT. So pay up, sucka!

(And I’ll bet she’ll give you an A+)

Agnbama on December 14, 2011 at 3:38 PM

I’m thinking those nuts who want to ban the singing of the National Anthem might be on to something but for the wrong reasons. Singing it makes us all a bunch of liars, because we sure as heck aren’t the land of the free anymore.

pannw on December 14, 2011 at 3:39 PM

I live by a simple rule: Government always knows best.

I live by a simple observation: Government always knows best how to act stupidly and its bureaucrats continually reinforce my observation daily.

hawkeye54 on December 14, 2011 at 3:43 PM

I’ve never even considered sending a gift for a teacher. That sounds too much like I’m bribing them – plus, the local schools nickel and dime us to death around here anyhow. Each year, we got a list of things the student had to bring to school that seemed too communal for my tastes – paper towels, tissues and the like. That was a fine gift in my book, since I already pay exhorbitant local school taxes anyhow.

Merry Christmas!

DeadGuy940 on December 14, 2011 at 3:46 PM

Sorry, it only applies to public employees, which she is decidedly NOT. So pay up, sucka!

(And I’ll bet she’ll give you an A+)

Agnbama on December 14, 2011 at 3:38 PM

LOL Agnbama,

I was just worried about the jail sentence. She’s getting that gift even if I have to go to jail for her.

But seriously, it is a ludicrous situation, and yet another argument (if a minor one) for scrapping what passes for public education in America and replacing it with any of the proven, market-driven approaches.

Mr. Bultitude on December 14, 2011 at 4:03 PM

Tennman on December 14, 2011 at 2:19 PM

I think the last switch thrower was Lyndon Johnson.

cigarcamel on December 14, 2011 at 4:14 PM

I wish they would make more and more laws that cannot possibly be enforced. (sarc) Sooner or later anarchy will take over as it has already in so many ways. I catch myself saying “there oughta be a law” every once in a while. NO MORE!!! Basically what we have now is if someone wants to nail you for whatever stupid reason, they don’t have to look too far to find a law or regulation to do it with. Sheesh!

landowner on December 14, 2011 at 4:25 PM

Because a few parents have sent their kids to school bearing over-the-top presents for Teacher, the State of Alabama Ethics Commission has decided that some Christmas gifts equate to bribes.

The was a time in America when the entire class prayed together. Now people want nothing to do with God and everything to do with their own ideas on sexuality, politics, and lifestyles. Man, things are getting out there, eh? I recommend we be like the 5 wise virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). Thanks.

apocalypse on December 14, 2011 at 4:26 PM

If any of my colleagues or I accept a large value gift, or heck, any gift, and let that affect our classroom behavior, there are more serious issues to address with that teacher than just taking a gift. As a teacher, I’ve received numerous small gifts and appreciate each one. I did once receive a 25 dollar gift certificate, the largest value gift I was given in my five years, and it was a class effort from everyone in my dual credit class. Although it would be easy to call the student-teacher relationship the same as some workers have with their clients, I think it would be too easy and inaccurate. We’re with them for at least a year, sometimes more, and we get to learn their personalities, their hopes, dreams and aspirations, and we try to help them improve upon their skills and learn to educate themselves. I don’t have this mentoring relationship with all my students, but all of my students have this relationship with someone in their lives, and very often that someone is a teacher.

The act of giving a gift isn’t just a potential form of bribery. It’s also one of the few ways a kid can express his/her feelings without feeling embarrassed, and I wouldn’t want to deprive them of the opportunity. If a gift will make a teacher feel indebted to the kid, they need to take a step back and remember that being disciplined and fair is ultimately what the child wants, not a relationship that is based on buying attention.

Strictly on topic of the law, however, a cap on the amount for a gift is not a bad idea. It gives the student an easy to reference amount for what would be appropriate, which some of them might not know to follow. That said, the commenter who mentioned the handwritten card being what the teacher kept the longest is quite correct. Candies and such get eaten, (sometimes with trepidation if you had a rocky relationship with the student), but the handwritten letters and cards stay posted on my wall forever, slowly accumulating over the years. In a way, those letters are our own personal “Changing of the Guard” episode.

kc-anathema on December 14, 2011 at 4:27 PM

Are you kidding me?! I’m 21 so only 10-15 years ago my parents were sending me off to school with presents for my teachers. It was just a nice thing to do, a sign of respect an appreciation. Other students did it too. How does the cultural outlook on present giving change that fast?!

Dagny__Taggart on December 14, 2011 at 5:02 PM

I got on the bad side of the PTA moms at my daughter’s preschool last year. I was the room mom, and someone asked me if I was going to organize a collection to get the teacher a gift. Crazy me, but I suggested that her pension be her gift and that I was going to have my daughter help me make cookies and write a thank you note and draw a picture, and that gifts would be up to the individual. The lady who asked me was furious and took it upon herself to organize a collection. The teacher received a gift card from the group for $250.00. I knew first hand that one-third of the class (myself included)attended the preschool on the dime of the county because we were such low income and our kids were at risk because of poverty. I was appalled that a collection plate would be passed around to buy a gift for a teacher, albeit a good one, who earned at lot more than many of us.

redmama on December 14, 2011 at 5:25 PM

Wow… how do I get the last five minutes back.

This is not overreach or a problem Tina. This is a sensible rule that lots of places have. I have a friend who holds a rather high position in the state government and I can’t take him out for lunch. He is meticulous about obeying the rules. My first job at Burger King had the same rule about staff accepting gifts and tips. If kids and parents want to thank a teacher they can write to the school and say what a great job that teacher is doing and give to the school… they accept gifts but not individual teachers. It’s pretty easy to work with and being against the rules is NOT criminalization.

lexhamfox on December 14, 2011 at 2:21 PM

Check the title: “Alabama teachers could receive jail time for accepting Christmas gifts from students.” There are lots of businesses with restrictions on gifts from customers or associates, and I think reasonable restrictions on teachers is a very good idea, but jail time for accepting a gift is … a bit much.

tom on December 14, 2011 at 5:25 PM

What about the joy it gives the child. My daughter enjoyed shopping for her “favorite teacher”. She lit up when her teacher received her gift.

strangenewworld on December 14, 2011 at 6:01 PM

In the private sector, we create guidelines and restrictions, with loss of job the ultimate penalty. In the public sector, we end up with overreaching laws to cover what should fall into the guideline category, with jail time the ultimate penalty.

I’m more interested in the hams & turkeys bit — that had to come from something specific. There’s a story there, I imagine.

Carolina21 on December 14, 2011 at 6:08 PM

This story is obviously made up, the Huffington Post assured me there was no such thing as a War of Christmas. /s

A War on Knee-Jerk Overreactions by Legislators would be nice though.

BornLib on December 14, 2011 at 7:07 PM

As a former teacher, my feeling is that Christmas gifts made me feel uncomfortable. I got a couple cards and it felt awkward. Now, if it’s the low grades, a little hand-drawn card or something cute from a kid is one thing. But in the upper grades, I don’t feel it belongs.

Any gift bigger than a card or some candy or fruits, I suppose I don’t mind their making a law – because there is a very real potential for abuse with teachers who have less than stellar ethics.

cane_loader on December 14, 2011 at 10:26 PM

Living in Alabama I feel this story was feed to The Washington Post by members of the AEA. Who ran the Alabama legislature for years till the Republican took over both houses in 2010 for the time in 136 years.
The first actions they took were to push through effective ethics laws for
government and lobbists. I sure this to make the Republicans look foolish and get pressure to rewrite the laws, just as they are trying to do on the new immigration law passed by the same legislature.

southernvoice on December 14, 2011 at 10:27 PM

Don’t give your teacher a coffee mug…. please give them kitchen towels…. everyone can use an extra kitchen towel.

roux on December 14, 2011 at 11:11 PM

If the parent is giving a gift through their kid, it’s probably because they were raised to give a little something to *everyone* that impacts their life positively.

If the kid is giving a gift, they probably like the teacher (and maybe even have a crush).

If the parent is cynical or calculating enough to pass out bribes to their kids’ teachers, the teachers are probably smart enough to see through it.

GWB on December 15, 2011 at 10:15 AM

One major problem with the proliferation of many small intrusions of law into everyday behavior is the prospect of selective enforcement.

While the world is focused on the prospect that a student or a parent might bribe a teacher with a gift, the presence of a statute, if not well known by both parents and teachers, places the teacher in perpetual risk. A simple act of kindness can be turned into a weapon. A parent or child with a grudge can set up a teacher to take a gift then report that teacher to the authorities for fun or profit.

islestar on December 15, 2011 at 12:07 PM

Comment pages: 1 2