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Have you and your children decided on what teacher gifts you’ll be giving for the holidays? If you’ve chosen a $25 gift card and you live in Alabama, you’ll want to reconsider—lest your gift sends a teacher to jail.
A new law prohibiting certain gifts to public officials and employees—narrowly defined to include teachers—took effect in the southern state earlier this year and is being put to the test in these next few weeks before the holidays, as children search for the perfect teacher gift.
Kids in Alabama who've fallen asleep with visions of sugarplums (or Hanukkah dreidels) dancing in their heads may be disappointed when it comes to selecting holiday gifts for their teachers.
Outlawed teacher gifts include “hams, turkeys or gift cards with a specific monetary value”—although that specific dollar amount wasn't specified. Homemade gifts—those that aren’t worth much, monetarily speaking—are still okay, so cookies, knitted oven mitts, baskets of fruit, breads, etc. are permissible.
But should a teacher receive a more valuable gift, he or she might be found guilty of breaking the state’s ethics law and could face up to a year in jail and a fine of $6,000.
Yes, it’s as ludicrous as it sounds.
According to this report from the Associated Press, Alabama Republican Senator Bryan Taylor, who sponsored the legislation, said the new law prevents teachers from favoring one child over another, i.e. theoretically favoring the better gift-giver, and protects families who can’t afford to give big teacher gifts.
“In every classroom, there is a Tiny Tim who can't afford a turkey or ham,” Taylor told the AP.
However, it seems that Alabama’s teachers are paying the penalty for a handful of Alabama lawmakers and lobbyists who were brought up on corruption charges not long ago. While I’ll bet they weren’t found guilty of giving a Christmas ham to the people they were trying to influence, their criminal actions effectively lowered the boom on teachers. And the state Ethics Commission wouldn’t consider exempting teachers from the law, saying “The suggestion that it is harmless for a school child to give a Christmas gift to their teacher ignores the potential for abuse.”
As anyone with kids knows, it's so convenient to opt for purchasing a book or a book gift certificate or gift cards from stores where teachers can purchase classroom supplies. It’s the rare teacher who receives a fancier gift. But even gift cards are out in Alabama, unless the card is purchased through an organization like the local PTO with individual donations of no more than $5 per child.
So, children of Alabama, you'd better get busy baking or knitting if you want to give your teacher a holiday gift. Bah humbug, indeed.