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Are Holiday Teacher Gifts Bribery?

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The Massachusetts State Ethics Commission has nixed teacher gifts worth more than $50. Foul or fair?

Teacher with gifts on her desk

Vivian Manning-Schaffel: According to this article in The Boston Globe, the days of an apple for the teacher are long gone.

The crazy-high level of competition in schools -- both private and public -- has upped the ante on teacher gifts, but some states are out to control this free-for-all in the interests of fair play. For instance, the article reports that the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission is on a mission to get crack-a-lacking on a new ethics law that "forbids public servants, including teachers on public payrolls, from receiving gifts with value in excess of $50." Those who violate these laws get fined.

David Giannotti, spokesman for the State Ethics Commission, told the Globe: "People need to understand that teachers are public employees and subject to the conflict-of-interest law. Gifts have a tendency to unlevel the playing field and can be exploited." Giannotti added that even a gift that was less than $50 could violate state law if it was given in the hopes of creating favoritism, such as changing a kid's grade or giving the child a positive recommendation.

The article goes on to mention that the Emily Post Institute says both public and private schools should be instituting a spending limit on teacher gifts, as opposed to the ridonkulous bonuses some California teachers copped to receiving, like Prada bags, Rolex watches -- even HDTVs.

Lizzie Post, a spokeswoman for the Institute, says, "The worst gift is cash, which comes across more as a bribe when a public official is involved, unlike holiday tips given to a personal trainer, dog walker or babysitter."

Teachers are among the hardest-working humans on the planet, and there's no question they deserve whatever kindness comes their way. However, laws like these still allow for parents to express their appreciation -- while taking the heat off of the many facing financial hardship this year.

What do you guys think? Should there be restrictions imposed on teacher gifts for the sake of fair play? And if so, what are cost-effective ways parents can show their appreciation?

next: Spread Budget-Friendly Holiday Cheer
6 comments so far | Post a comment now
???? December 15, 2010, 12:58 PM

I never spent that much on any of my kid’s teachers.

Anonymous December 15, 2010, 12:58 PM

OMG…I would NEVER spend that much on a teachers gift. I don’t even spend that much on members of my family gifts ie…neice, newphews,in-law etc. I think that it’s crazy to spend that much!

Anonymous December 15, 2010, 3:22 PM

I’ve been teaching in the public school system for twenty years. I teach in an area of higher poverty. The most expensive gift I’ve ever gotten is a $15 Starbucks gift card. Most of the time I get a nice card, bottle of lotion or some sort of Christmas statue from the dollar store. I try to tell the kids not to get me gifts because I know they do not have lots of money but it makes the kids feel good to give me something and it teaches them about being charitable. So gifts are ok. But expensive ones???? I don’t know that it would be a conflict of interest but at the same time I don’t see why it has to be that expensive anyway? Most teachers would be happy with small donations of pencils, a sharpener, expo markers or a small token.

Anonymous December 15, 2010, 10:06 PM

One Christmas when my children were in middle school, I purchased gifts for all of their teachers at their school and for all of their sunday school teachers. I thought it was a nice thing to do and it made my children feel like they were doing something nice for all of them. But to my surprise, one of the teachers told my son that she doesn’t give out grades for presents. This made my son feel bad and it made me upset that she thought the gift was for a grade. I didn,t have a lot of money at the time, and they were only small gifts such as an ornament for the christmas tree. Because of that incident I never did it again, because I did not want to take a chance on a teacher hurting my childrens feeling instead realizing that it came out of the goodness of our hearts with no motive behind it. I feel sorry for people that automatically assume that you are doing something bad, when you are trying to do something good. Well my children are grown now and Christmas is still my favorite time of the year.

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