All too often, educators make the news for having inappropriate relationships with students – probably the most notable case being Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau in 1997. However, when it was revealed recently that a 24 year-old Houston-area teacher was impregnated by her then 13-year-old former student, we were reminded that this issue is still prevalent today.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) investigates these reported relationships and has conducted 162 investigations between September 1, 2015 and May 31, 2016. Last fiscal year, the TEA conducted 188 investigations; a number some officials say the state is likely to beat this year – making 2016 the fifth year the state has seen growth in this problem. What’s to blame for the increase?
Lawmakers and experts alike are saying social media is to blame. In the previously-mentioned Houston-area case, the teacher initially reached out to her then 13 year-old student via Instagram.
In this article from the Amarillo Globe-News, Kathy Tortoreo, the Director of Crisis Services at Family Support Services in Amarillo, acknowledges that relationship boundaries can blur when teachers and students interact via social media, but reassures that it is the adult’s responsibility to understand and uphold relationship boundaries. The same article cites Christina Green, the Director of Public Affairs for the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas, and her testimony before lawmakers at Texas Senate and Texas House Public Education Committee hearings. Green spoke about the importance of training school personnel to recognize abuse and recommended that schools implement media policies outlining communication boundaries.
KUT.org from Austin spoke with Julie Leahy, an attorney with the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, about whether teachers should be legally prohibited from connecting with students via social media. Leahy believes that social media has a place in teachers’ personal lives, but that any social media communication that occurs with students should be done so in a professional manner. Leahy also points out that most districts have policies in place about social media conduct and that teachers should always comply.
If your district is looking for educational resources to address inappropriate relationships between staff and students, PublicSchoolWORKS’ “Sexual Misconduct – Staff to Student” online training course should be added to your staff training offerings. The 25-minute course defines and explains staff sexual misconduct with students including the perpetrator’s methods and the resulting effects on the student. It also teaches educators how to detect signs of sexual misconduct between teachers and students, how to prevent the behavior and provides additional helpful tips for staff.
Interested in implementing this course at your district? Contact us to learn more.