How Texas Could Curb Inappropriate Student-Teacher Relationships

In the 2013-2014 school year, 188 educators were accused of illicit relationships with students.

By Laura Rice November 22, 2015 7:55 pm

Texas leads the country in the number of reported inappropriate student-teacher relationships. Now, some state lawmakers are set to explore what’s behind the rise. The Texas Education Agency told the Dallas Morning News that last school year, 188 educators were accused of sexual or other inappropriate conduct with a student. That number is up from the previous year.

Terry Abbott is the former Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education, a former Houston ISD official, and now Chairman of Drive West Communications, which tracks reports of teacher student sex crimes. Abbott says that state lawmakers are beginning to take an interest in the topic because of the rising number of reported cases.

“Everyone has got to be absolutely alarmed about that,” Abbott says.

Lawmakers can help prevent inappropriate student-educator relationships through a variety of measures, Abbott says. “They need to have more public hearings about this issue,” he says. “Bring in more public testimony from students who have been victims of these cases. Bring in a testimony of teachers who have committed these offenses and have seen their lives and their careers wrecked by what they did.”

Abbott says the state is still seeing punishments in these cases ranging from 20 years in prison to nothing. “No jail time at all. In some cases, teachers not being required to register as sex offenders,” Abbott says. “We’ve got to get tougher.”

Another thing the state can do to curb these inappropriate student-teacher relationships? Abbott says school districts need to start more intensive teacher trainings. “They’ve got to spend more time training the teachers about what happens in these cases,” Abbott says.

Abbott says that there’s speculation that the rise in cases comes from teachers in extra-curricular activities. “Some say it’s because coaches, like band directors and other extracurricular teachers, have lots of extra time with students,” he says.

That may be part of it, Abbott says, but it may also be part of the command and the persona that instructors exhibit. “Children trust them,” Abbott says. “They trust their leadership, they’re used to taking their command.”

Abbott says social media is the biggest single factor driving the increase in the number of cases. “A teacher has the ability to contact a 15 year-old student in the middle of the night with a secret text message that only the teacher and the student see,” Abbott says. “It’s just amazing the number of Texas coaches, just since the start of this school year. Well over 30 who have been caught up in these kind of cases.”

Abbott says the numbers show that 20 times a week, a teacher has an inappropriate relationship with a student. “I think parents have to be hyper vigilant about watching what their children are doing on social media,” he says.