This saga has rocked Alabama for a few days, and I thought it was an interesting story to share with the outside world. The short version is that teachers can no longer receive gift cards or anything of value from parents as a “thank you” for doing a great job. My response is to this is, “What’s next, outlawing tips for servers?” Teachers have a tough job, and many parents realize that. They appreciate the effort and long hours put in by the people who are educating their children, and they want to take the time around the holidays to do something special to help the teacher understand that they care.
Then the government steps in and wrecks everything (which is pretty standard).
Check out the excerpt below from an email one school system sent to its parents and employees:
In the Opinion issued yesterday, the Ethics Commission set out two specific rules that apply with respect to any gift to teachers:
- The gift may not be given for any corrupt purpose, and
- The gift has to be “de minimis” in value.
The first rule is easy enough to understand and unlikely to be an issue with gifts you would give to teachers. The meaning of “de minimis”, however, is a cause of some concern because while the term is used in the law, no definition of it is included. The Ethics Commission opinion issued yesterday offered as guidance the definition of the term as employed by the Internal Revenue Service: “A benefit so small as to make accounting for it unreasonable or unpractical.” The Commission also stated an item of “de minimis” value neither has significant intrinsic value nor the possibility of being sold for profit.
The Commission opinion stated clearly that teachers and public employees cannot receive gifts like:
- hams, turkeys, etc;
- gift cards with monetary value.
This list of prohibited gifts is obviously not all inclusive. The bottom line, as we understand the Commission opinion, is that any gifts given must be of de minimis, or insignificant intrinsic value to the teacher (unless specifically for the classroom, as mentioned below).
The Commission has given its opinion that teachers may receive gifts like the following (assuming they are not given for a corrupt purpose):
- Fruit baskets, homemade cookies, etc.;
- Christmas ornaments of little intrinsic value;
- Coffee mugs filled with candy of a holiday nature;
- Any item a teacher may use to assist him/her in performing his or her functions as a teacher, such as notebooks, school supplies, etc.
- CD’s or books of a nominal value, scarves, etc.
Obviously, this is not an all inclusive list but it should provide some guidelines to you of the types of gifts that are acceptable for school teachers to receive.
The Commission did note that the school or teacher may receive gift cards specifically for use on items needed in the classroom at any time during the year. But it specifically prohibited receipt of gift cards by a teacher for the teacher’s personal use. We see a significant risk of confusion here. For that reason we request that if you wish to present a gift card for classroom supplies to a teacher, please present it to the school principal’s office accompanied by instructions that it is given for the use of a particular teacher or classroom.
Does anyone else think this is more than a little crazy?
1. The title is misleading; they didn’t prohibit gift giving at all, just the scope of what could be given. As a teacher, I’d be grateful if any student brought me a batch of homemade cookies or fudge, or a mug full of candy.
2. Perhaps, in these tough economic times, there was concern that some parents could afford to give “better” gifts than others, and as a result, some kids who mean well, will feel like their gift is less nice than others who can afford more.
1) Teachers at my wife’s school get those kinds of gifts already. The parents want to do more than the bare minimum to show their appreciation, and now teachers are being threatened if they accept any gifts like that. You’re a professor, which is a little different relationship than an elementary school teacher. ;-)
2) Even in “good” economic times, some parents can’t afford or just don’t care to give something to teachers, so that shouldn’t be the case. I know last year the students pooled $2-3 dollars each for a gift card, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have $2 to offer.
Just breaks my heart. It’s absolutely absurd!
@ Tina-I totally agree!
My wife, a school psychologist, came home and regaled me with a story of a Somali family with 8 kids, several of whom are dealing with various cognitive issues. One kid has been needing glasses for a year, and has Medicare to cover two pair, but the parents are so busy (among other issues) the kid goes without. $2 per teacher for 8 different teachers may be more difficult than anticipated. Trust me, teachers deserve much more economic and intrinsic rewards. But, I can understand some of the rationale behind the law