Public School Teacher FAQs on the Conflict of Interest Law
Link to the State Ethics Commission:
Public school teachers – teachers who work for school districts, regional schools, and charter schools -- are subject to the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A. This information sheet answers some questions about the law frequently asked by teachers. The following topics are covered:
Question: My students’ parents want to give me an end-of-the-year gift. May I accept it?
Answer: It depends on the value of the gift. Public employees, including teachers, are prohibited by §§ 3 and 23(b)(2) of the conflict of interest law from accepting gifts worth $50 or more that are given to them because of the position they hold, or because of some action they could take or have taken in their position. Teachers and other public employees may accept gifts that are worth less than $50, but they have to disclose in writing the fact that that they have done so if, based on the circumstances, a reasonable person would think that the teacher might unduly show favor to the giver or the giver’s child because of the gift. G.L. c. 268A, § 23(b)(3). Therefore, whether you may accept the gift depends on its value, and whether you must disclose a gift you are allowed to accept depends on the circumstances.
A teacher who is offered an end-of-the-year gift worth $50 or more should not accept it, unless it is a permissible class gift. The Commission created an exemption in its regulations at 930 CMR 5.08(14) to permit class gifts to teachers in certain circumstances. Under the exemption, the parents and students of a class, acting together, may give a gift worth up to $150 to a teacher, provided that the gift is identified only as being from the class, and the names of the givers and the amounts given are not identified to the teacher. A single class gift worth up to $150, or several class gifts during the school year with a total value up to $150, may be given. A teacher may not accept any other gift from someone who has contributed to a class gift. Therefore, if an individual gift is offered, before accepting it, the teacher must confirm that the giver did not contribute to the class gift.
A gift given to a teacher to use solely in the classroom or to buy classroom supplies is not considered a gift to the teacher personally, and is, therefore, not subject to the $50 limit on personal gifts to teachers. Parents may give gifts to the classroom or the school in accordance with the rules of the school district. A teacher who receives such a gift must keep receipts documenting that the money was used for classroom supplies.
Question: I’ve been told that I cannot even accept a plate of holiday cookies from a student without filling out paperwork. Is that correct?
Answer: No, it is not correct. A teacher who is offered an end of the year gift worth less than $50 by someone who did not contribute to a class gift may accept it, after confirming by asking that the giver did not contribute to the class gift. A gift worth less than $50 must be disclosed in writing if, based on the circumstances, a reasonable person would think that the teacher might unduly show favor to the giver or the giver’s child because of the gift. G.L. c. 268A, § 23(b)(3). A gift without retail value, such as a plate of cookies or other homemade food items, hand-picked flowers, handmade gifts, or other items worth less than $10, need not be disclosed, because a reasonable person would not think that a teacher would unduly show favor to the giver. A gift that might create such an appearance of a conflict – for example, a $40 bottle of wine given to a teacher who is going to write a college recommendation for a student – must be disclosed, in writing, to the teacher’s appointing authority. A teacher who accepts a gift worth less than $50 from a student or parent during the school year must file a disclosure if she will continue to teach the student during the rest of the year and the gift is valuable enough that it might create an appearance that she would unduly favor the student. The form that should be used for such a disclosure is form no. 13d at the following link: http://www.mass.gov/ethics/disclosure-forms/municipal-employee-disclosure-forms/
If a teacher gets a gift after the school year has ended and grades have been reported, and the gift is one that she may accept because the giver did not contribute to the class gift and the item given is worth less than $50, she need not file a disclosure unless she expects to perform official duties in relation to the student again, because if she will not have further contact with the student, there will be no appearance that she might unduly favor the student.