A headline from the Dallas Morning News on Thursday read, “Irving high school teacher accused of having a romantic relationship with student, police say.”
It might be a shocking headline, but it’s sadly not a rare one. Texas leads all other states in the number of cases of teachers charged with or found guilty of inappropriate sexual relationships with students.
According to the The Texas Education Agency the group has opened more than 70 investigations into this since September. There has been a steady increase over the last few years. There were 141 alleged cases in the 2009-10 school year and rose to 179 cases in the 2013-14 school year.
Terry Abbott–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 says the problem in Texas is escalating.
“Texas has far and away the biggest problem in the country. We tracked in 2014, 116 cases of school employees involved in inappropriate relationships with students. That’s more than twice as many as any other state,” Abbott says. “The closest state to Texas was Pennsylvania with only 45. Texas has an extreme problem in this area. I’d call it a crisis.”
Abbott points to social media as one factor for the increase in inappropriate relationships. “That’s where so many of these cases begin. When a teacher sends a student a text message in the middle of the night, or a Facebook message that parents and administrators at the school don’t know anything about.”
Social media is not something that’s going to go away. And as investigations into inappropriate relationships continue to rise in Texas, Abbott says there are steps individuals can take to keep it from happening.
“First of all we need to see, and I think we are seeing in some cases, school districts take a much harder line on these cases. Beginning with adopting new policies that prohibit private electronic messaging between teachers and students. That would be the place to start,” he says. “But legislators need to play a role too. We need to see minimum penalties for teachers and other school employees involved in these cases. We’re seeing far too many cases in which teachers and other school employees accused of sexually assaulting children getting off without any jail time at all, they’re getting probation.”