NIAGARA FALLS – Recognizing the increasing use of electronic social networking sites, city school administrators are modernizing their policy to make sure that students and staff understand that fraternization is forbidden even if it is done digitally or outside the classroom and not face-to-face.

“Frequent personal communication with a student unrelated to course work or official school matters [includes] but is not limited to voice or text-based communication via phone, email, instant messaging, text messaging or through social networking web sites,” according to a policy draft presented Thursday to the School Board.

It is part of a much larger revision of school district policies that is a work in progress and will be presented later to board members for their final approval.

Maria Massaro, the district’s administrator for human resources, said the newly written draft does not change the long-standing policy that the staff “must establish appropriate personal boundaries with students and not engage in any behavior that could reasonably lead to even the appearance of impropriety.”

Massaro said the intent is to make it clear in writing that prohibited fraternization between staff and students includes contact through the proliferation of new channels of communication.

Even if a student participates “willingly” in the activity, and regardless of the student’s age, “inappropriate fraternization of staff with students is against district policy and may be in violation of professional standards of conduct and New York State law,” according to the policy.

Inappropriate employee behavior includes “flirting; making suggestive comments; dating; requests for sexual activity; physical displays of affection; giving inappropriate personal gifts; frequent personal communication with a student unrelated to course work or official school matters; providing alcohol or drugs to students; inappropriate touching; and engaging in sexual contact and/or sexual relations,” the policy states.

School employees are expected to maintain “a professional, ethical relationship with district students” conducive to a safe learning environment.

Violation of district policies can lead to firing and the filing of criminal charges.

Students, school employees or third parties who know of any inappropriate staff behavior are to report it to the school administration for investigation.