Q: Many students and parents offer teachers gifts during the holiday season. Are teachers allowed to accept them?
A: Most likely yes, so long as the gift is not a bribe. However, if the teacher is also a UIL coach or sponsor they should be cognizant of additional UIL restrictions.
The Texas Educators’ Code of Ethics, Standard 1.5 states, “The educator shall neither accept nor offer gratuities, gifts, or favors that impair professional judgment or that are used to obtain special advantage. This standard shall not restrict the acceptance of gifts or tokens offered and accepted openly from students, parents of students, or other persons or organizations in recognition or appreciation of service.” 19 TAC § 247.2(1)(E).
As indicated above, it is acceptable for classroom teachers to accept gifts from parents or students so long as the gift does not constitute a bribe, which basically means that the gift cannot influence the teacher’s decision-making concerning that parent’s child. Standard TASB policy at DBD (Local) provides specifically that “[a]n employee shall not accept or solicit any gift, favor, service, or other benefit that could be reasonably construed to influence the employee’s discharge of assigned duties and responsibilities.”
Gifts from “classroom wish lists” on websites such as Amazon are also likely to be acceptable. Board policy CDC (Local) provides direction concerning “crowdfunding” and states that “[a]n employee may solicit web-based donations of money or items for use by the employee in fulfilling his or her professional responsibilities or for the District’s use, including ‘crowdfunding.’” Note that policy also provides that “an employee shall obtain prior approval from the employee’s supervisor before using the name or image of the District, campus, or any student.”
Finally, note that UIL coaches and sponsors for high school activities should be aware that they can be sanctioned if they accept gifts valued at a total of more than $500 per year in recognition for coaching. See Univ. Interscholastic League, 2019-2020 UIL Constitution & Contest Rules, § 481. The rule states “The $500 limit is cumulative for a calendar year and is not specific to any one particular gift.”
Keep in mind that there are different rules and regulations relating to the acceptance of gifts for administrators, board members, and employees who exercise discretion in connection to financial transactions. Contact your school district attorney to discuss these rules and any other questions you might have pertaining to gifts.