After scandal, school sets 'clear boundaries' on how staff and students interact in person, on social media

Posted at 11:16 PM, Mar 28, 2023

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. -- Colonial Heights School Board members took steps to clarify how staff should be interacting with students at a board meeting Tuesday night by unanimously voting to move two policies forward.

The school board proposed a new policy about maintaining appropriate boundaries between school staff and students and revised the school system's social media guidelines, which hadn't been updated in a decade.

"We believe it needs to be clear what the boundaries are of what is a very positive relationship with students, to make sure it doesn't cross the line into something that might not be in the best interest of our students, our staff, and the parents of those students," Steve Nece, Colonial Heights School Board Chair, said.

The policy changes come in the wake of a scandal involving former Colonial Heights High School Softball coach Jeff Faries.

A special prosecutor looked at the evidence compiled by Virginia State Police into "inappropriate behavior" complaints made against Faries who was also the city's police chief at the time.

She told CBS 6 that members of the softball team described Faries as being "creepy" and "too touchy-feely," and said he sent text messages or social media comments that parents found to be inappropriate and made the girls feel uncomfortable.

The prosecutor said she found evidence that Faries committed a misdemeanor crime or crimes but the statute of limitations had run out so she could not prosecute him.

In the proposed boundaries policy, it spells out a long list of specific examples of inappropriate interactions, including:

  • Having physical contact with a student that could be reasonably interpreted as constituting sexual harassment
  • Maintaining personal contact with a student outside of school by phone, email, instant messenger or chat rooms, social networking sites, or letters (beyond homework or other legitimate school purposes) without including the building administrator/supervisor and parent guardian

"We're trying to set the expectation with the staff that they should be making the parent aware of the interactions they're having with the students," Nece said.
As for the revised social media policies, they say that communication with students over social media is discouraged and any school-related communications on social media between students and staff must be transparent, accessible to parents, and professional in content and tone.

"We want to make sure it's clear what we expect of our staff in terms of those interactions," Nece said.

The new policy also states that anyone who receives a report of a violation of the policy must document the allegations in writing and provide a copy to the Director of Human Resources.

A former assistant softball coach told CBS 6 she reported concerns about Faries to the athletic director, but the school system said it has no record of her complaints.

Jeff Faries resigned as coach in February 2022. Two months later, he resigned from his other job as the Colonial Heights Police Chief. The state has since stripped him of his certification to work in law enforcement.

Faries told CBS 6 that he did nothing wrong and that he does have the right to appeal his decertification, but he has twice asked the state to postpone his appeal hearing.

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