News came out yesterday that former Spring Branch ISD high school teacher Kathanna Culp, 28, is accused of having sex with one of her students and of supplying him and his friends with pot and alcohol. This follows last month's story about a Dallas teacher Jessica Guilbeaux, 31, accused of sleeping with a student after his senior prom. And January's grand jury indictment of a former Haltom High School teacher Tonya Flink, 39, accused of having sex with four of her students. And the December guilty plea of Garland High School teacher Willis Bassham, 40, who kept explicit video and pictures of at least four students he slept with.
If you feel like you read a story like this every day (or about twice a week), you're right. Terry Abbott, the former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education under George W. Bush, says this is just the latest case an "epidemic" of teacher-student affairs.
According to a WFAA story, Abbott took it on himself to keep track of media reports on the topic, and he's recorded about 200 incidents nationally. Texas is in the lead, with 26 cases in the first 13 weeks of the year.
Abbot claims that Facebook and text messages exacerbate the problem. He says the majority of the cases start when teachers and students exchange texts or Facebook messages, like the case of Arlington teacher Brittni Colleps, convicted last year on 16 counts of inappropriate relations with students. And so, he concludes, school districts should ban teachers from sending text and Facebook messages to their students.
According to the Texas Education Agency, the number of reported cases in the last few years has vacillated between about 150 and 200. So far this school year, starting back in September, the TEA has sanctioned 74 teachers for "Sexual Misconduct" or "Inappropriate Relationship w/Student or Minor." In 2011-2012 the total was 174, 196 in 2010-2011, and 156 in 2009-2010. Debbie Ratcliffe, director of media relations for the TEA, says a growing number of cases involve social media. It's unclear if those numbers are growing because the there are more incidents or if people are more willing to report them. Ratcliffe also pointed out that often text and social media messages can leave paper trails for investigators.
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But hard numbers are scarce on the national level. There's no federal data to show any kinds of long term trends. As Slate pointed out last year one of the only extensive studies was done in 2000. But the numbers are large, and likely under-reported. That study asked students about a variety of things, from exposure to pornography to outright touching, and found that 10 percent of students would get through K-12 with some kind of inappropriate interaction with a teacher. That would include "both inappropriate romantic relationships between teachers and upperclassmen, and outright pedophilia." The U.S. Census Bureau estimates around 56 million students were enrolled in elementary through high school in 2010-2011.
In 2010, the TEA announced that the State Board for Educator Certification now bans "inappropriately communicating with students through the use of social media." In their press release TEA said they requested the change after "receiving disciplinary case referrals in which teachers were found to have sent students thousands of text messages. Sometimes the content of the messages was not inappropriate on their face but the volume of messages and time of day the messages were sent indicated that the educator was "grooming" the student for a future sexual relationship."
The policy, used in DISD, follows:
Standard 3.9. The educator shall refrain from inappropriate communication with a student or minor, including, but not limited to, electronic communication such as cell phone, text messaging, e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, or other social network communication. Factors that may be considered in assessing whether the communication is inappropriate include, but are not limited to:
a. The nature, purpose, timing, and amount of the communication;
b. The subject matter of the communication;
c. Whether the communication was made openly or the educator attempted to conceal the communication;
d. Whether the communication could be reasonably interpreted as soliciting sexual contact or a romantic relationship;
e. Whether the communication was sexually explicit; and
f. Whether the communication involved discussion(s) of the physical or sexual attractiveness or the sexual history, activities, preferences, or fantasies of either the educator or the student.