Over winter break during the 2007-08 school year, Robert Lange, then a social studies teacher at Williams High School in Plano, twice had sex with a high school student at a martial arts studio. The girl was 18, the sex was consensual, and she wasn't his pupil but a student in the Mesquite Independent School District whom he had met outside of any school function. But the relationship was enough for the State Board for Educator Certification to strip Lange of his teaching license.
Lange appealed the decision, then sued the SBEC. The case is ongoing, but it illustrates a growing trend, as reported over the weekend by the Austin American-Statesman.
As the paper pointed out:
In recent years, Texas boards that oversee the growing number of state-regulated occupations have punished licensed professionals not for on-the-job missteps that imperil the public, but for legal behavior that occurs outside of work hours -- often saying the incidents dishonor the profession or indicate character failings that might seep into their work.
The paper offers plenty of examples that echo Lange's case: a Texas Tech nursing professor whose explicit online chat was viewed remotely by a student; a nurse who pulled a gun on a suspicious man who approached her in the parking lot (he was a process server in her divorce and didn't press charges); a home health worker found napping at the home of a patient. All lost their licenses, raising questions about privacy, due process, and if those are things people give up when they enter certain occupations.
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And in Texas, it's a lot of occupations. Workers in 500 occupations fall under the purview of official state licensing boards.
"If you are a nurse, you are caring for the most vulnerable people -- unconscious, elderly, children -- who are putting their entire trust in you," Board of Nursing Executive Director Katherine Thomas told the Statesman. "You need to uphold standards to where that trust is deserved."
But it's certainly a slippery slope.