Improper Teacher-Student Relationships Are Happening Right Now

As many of you know, one of my businesses is an electronic news clipping service. I read newspapers from the viewpoint of a mayor or city manager – interested in anything that affects local governments in Texas. I poll and read from 168 newspapers in Texas and about 56 other news sources at the national level. It is simply fascinating to see stories as they pop up all over the state that become “heads up” material. Part of this bubbling up of similar stories is that reporters read other newspapers. An event in the Rio Grande Valley will result in a reporter asking a city in North Texas how they deal with this or that.

But some of the similarities have to do with a wave of events in our state that are, in fact, truly societal. I pick up hints by also reading from the national level. Sometimes I am baffled. How is it that black mold was like swarming locusts just a few years ago and now there isn’t a story to be found? Did it pop up overnight and is now cured? I doubt it. It is my guess that a 1,000-year-old problem got the spotlight placed on it, and much has been cured. But has it disappeared? Doubt it.

One of the trends I’ve mentioned a lot over the past few years has never gone away and is, in fact, growing at alarming rates. I don’t keep counts, but I’m guessing there are 4-5 reported on just about any given week. I actually don’t send most of those stories even though I often mention how many I’ve found on a particular day. I had just made that point a few days ago when a more comprehensive story came out four days ago in the Austin American Statesman. Please take time to read below.

But don’t stop there. Ask your school boards and administrations to explain how they are dealing with this issue? There should be some policies, and here’s why. It is happening in your ISD. Another consideration has to do with a police statistic. Every police department knows that for every reported incidence, there are usually multiple incidences of the same type that are not being reported – in this case by the student.

Yet the critical issue is prevention. What is being done to prevent these incidences from happening? Everybody would probably agree that 100% prevention is not realistic. The key is to make sure that there is an proactive preventative program in place. Is there regular emphases placed on improper teacher-student relationships through teacher meetings? If there is a known flirtatious student being noticed, is there a confrontation and counseling? If you follow these stories, you realize that many do involve female teachers as well as men. Are all teachers and employees asked perhaps a couple of times a year, in private, if there have been any incidences or temptations and how the teacher handled it? Is there a policy that an unreported incident, no matter how small, is grounds for termination?

Again, an improper teacher-student relationship is happening in your ISD right now as you read this blog. As I am prone to do, this is another example where I would urge everyone to work it backwards. Imagine a major scandal sufficient to rock the ISD and cost hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars dealing with an improper relationship. Now go back to how it started. What could be done at that moment to head it off? Who knew something didn’t look or seem right and had been suspicious all along? LFM

Improper teacher-student cases on track to break Texas record

By Julie Chang – American-Statesman Staff
Posted: 5:27 p.m. Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Social media and text messaging continue to be main drivers of the increase in such cases, official says.
Between Sept. 1 and March 31, 114 cases were opened, up from 85 during the same period last year.
Texas Education Agency wants more access to investigative documents.
The number of Texas teachers accused of developing romantic relationships with students this year is on course to outstrip last year’s record total, even as quashing such misconduct remains a priority for lawmakers and education officials.
Between Sept. 1 and March 31, the Texas Education Agency opened investigations into 114 teachers who were accused of acting improperly with students — up from 85 teachers during the same period last year — with behavior ranging from sending personal text messages to having sex with multiple students.
Last fiscal year, the education agency opened 188 such cases, the seventh consecutive year of growth.
Report of improper teacher-student relationship at Ann Richards School
Surge in improper student-teacher relationships prompts state inquiry
Texas sees rising number of improper teacher-student relationships
Social media has continued to fuel this year’s rise, said Doug Phillips, director of investigations at the Texas Education Agency, who will testify Wednesday before the Texas House Public Education Committee about improper teacher-student relationships. The state Senate held a similar hearing in December.
Phillips’ wish list from lawmakers for the 2017 legislative session will include tightening school district requirements on reporting teacher misconduct; requiring school districts to develop policies to rein in unsupervised contact between teachers and students; and forcing school districts to hand over teacher evaluations, which are typically protected by privacy laws.
“We are here to protect the kids. School districts are here to protect the kids,” Phillips said. “We all have the same interest. We have to deal with this issue of giving teachers this direct unsupervised contact.”
Four local cases
Of the 118 investigations the Texas Education Agency has launched since the fiscal year began in September, at least four were in Central Texas school districts:
• Westlake High School math teacher Haeli Noelle Wey was arrested in December after police said she had sex with a 17-year-old student and kissed and touched another 17-year-old student.
• Vandegrift High School communication applications teacher and coach Je’ron Curtis resigned in December after the school district said he was in a relationship with a student in another school district.
• Math teachers Austin Locklear from Crockett High School and Keith Marquez from McCallum High School resigned this year after the Austin school district launched separate investigations into allegations of improper teacher-student relationships, according to documents the district sent to the Texas Education Agency.
The Austin school district reported that Marquez’s actions weren’t criminal, but documents the Texas Education Agency provided to the American-Statesman didn’t describe the types of text messages that he allegedly sent to a student. The documents also didn’t detail the accusations against Locklear.
Although an improper teacher-student relationship is narrowly defined in the penal code as involving sexual contact or online solicitation of a minor, the education agency can sanction teachers or revoke teaching certificates based on misconduct that falls short of a crime, including exchanging flirtatious text messages with a student.
Superintendents are required to report misconduct to the state within seven days if it has led to the termination or resignation of a teacher.
Policing e-messages
Phillips said most of the improper teacher-student relationships his office investigates stem from social media or text messaging — types of communication that provide opportunities to push professional and personal boundaries with students while creating a record of exchanges that can be used later as evidence.
Experts suggest that some school districts fail to adequately train teachers on communications boundaries because they assume teachers know what they shouldn’t do.
Some districts also tend to perceive frequent and candid training on improper relationships as admitting to a problem, said Phillip S. Rogers, head of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification. The association has co-developed a model code of ethics for educators, including in the proper use of technology.
“One of the things we find with superintendents when we start talking about the model code, they’re a little standoffish. Why? Because people are going to think that ‘we have a problem,’” Rogers said.
Phillips said more training will help, but he also suggests that school districts require teachers to copy parents on any electronic messages sent to students or to use a district email or messaging system to communicate with students.
“If it takes legislation to compel districts to implement policies about use of electronic media and any communication, in my opinion it should be that you don’t communicate with a student one-on-one. It has to be transparent,” he said.
More investigative power
For years, Phillips’ investigators have faced resistance from some school officials who withheld teacher documents because they feared lawsuits or wanted to protect district reputations.
Lawmakers ­granted the TEA subpoena ­power Sept. 1 after the ­agency complained that some school districts were redacting names of key witnesses and sometimes entire pages of a teacher’s personnel records.
Phillips said the subpoena power has helped the state get information and close cases quicker, but there are still some loopholes available to districts.
One weakness is that the law requires only superintendents to report a termination or resignation due to teacher misconduct, if they know about it. Phillips said the language should be tightened so all school district officials have a responsibility to report teacher misconduct.
Another loophole, he said, is that school districts can hide information about educator misconduct in teacher evaluations, which are protected by privacy laws and aren’t obtainable through subpoenas. Phillips said he will ask legislators for such authority.
“We have to get away from worrying about the teachers. We have victims who are kids,” Phillips said.
The Texas Association of Professional Educators said it supports making teacher information available as long as the accused educator has the right to review the information that is provided to investigators.
What we’ve reported
The American-Statesman first reported in May 2015 that some Texas school districts, worried about lawsuits and their reputations, were refusing to give information to state officials about teachers accused of improper relationships with students. That lack of information made it more difficult for state education officials to sanction teachers who had left school districts for alleged misconduct. Later that year, the Legislature granted subpoena power to Texas Education Agency investigators.

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