EL PASO, Texas - Texas Education Agency data reveals a sharp increase in the number of improper student-teacher relationships.
It's the highest number the TEA has seen and the state agency is trying to figure out how to tackle the problem.
"You never know what your getting your kids into or what your kids are going to be exposed to in the future," Nicole Lucas said.
Lucas has a four-year-old daughter and says she has her enrolled in private school, fearful of what could happen at a public school.
The mother tells ABC-7 she was shocked to hear a former El Dorado High School teacher aide was arrested last week for allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a former student.
Police say 43-year-old David Efren Ordaz even admitted to having sex with the 16-year old at his own home.
"I just talked to my daughter and just reminded her about how inappropriate it was," Martin Garcia said, echoing Lucas' concerns. Garcia's daughter attends Riverside Middle School.
The father says he was forced to have a talk with his daughter after a gym teacher there was accused of having a relationship with a student.
Police say Adam Lee Newport sexually assaulted a 13-year-old student at school for a year, also sending her inappropriate texts and pictures.
FOR A FULL LIST OF ALL TEACHERS SANCTIONED BY THE TEA FOR INAPPROPRIATE RELATIONSHIPS WITH STUDENTS, CLICK ON THE FILE BELOW.
Cases like those mentioned above have the Texas Education Agency looking for a solution.
"We've seen a steady increase in the number of inappropriate student teacher relationships that have been reported to the agency and that we've opened cases on," TEA Spokeswoman De'Etta Culberson said.
In fact, it's the highest in seven years. The numbers are staggering, a total of 220 cases across the state were reported to the TEA during the last school year.
While these relationships for the most part initially begin inside the classroom, the TEA believes cell phones and the rise of social media contribute to relationships.
"The Snapchat, Twitter, texting, it just gives educators a little more access to students - especially texting," Culberson said.
Solicitation of a Romantic Relationship - Texas Administrative Code 249.3
- Deliberate or repeated acts that can be reasonably interpreted as the solicitation by an educator of a relationship with a student that is romantic in nature.
- A romantic relationship is often characterized by a strong emotional or sexual attachment and/or by patterns of exclusivity, but does not include appropriate educator-student relationships that arise out of legitimate contexts such as familial connections or longtime acquaintance.
- Not illegal however, educator can be sanctioned.
"These kids tend to use these phones for everything. They take pictures of everything, they take videos of everything, and there's no filter for them to say I shouldn't post this. To them, that's unfiltered to them and they automatically post everything on Facebook, on Instagram and everywhere place else. So it's changed the dynamic dramatically," Norma De La Rosa, President of the El Paso Teachers Association said.
De La Rosa says teachers are encouraged to use technology, but some things can be misinterpreted. "Being the adult in that classroom, they also need to maintain a very fine line as to when they cross it," De La Rosa said.
While most school districts adopt their own cell phone and social media policies, guidelines can be blurred.
"Until the district puts forth some very specific guidelines, you want teachers and students to be involved with social media have Facebook accounts, communicate with them through text message, then it needs to be clear exactly what it is what they can an cannot do," De La Rosa said, "Those guidelines need to go just for teachers, students, especially high school students, who tend to blow out of proportion when something has been said or something that has been posted."
The TEA hopes Texas Legislators will step up this January and toughen up policies for schools statewide.
"In our legislative policy considerations that we've talked with legislators about, is to have some type of requirement that school district adopt electronic media policies for student teacher interaction and something that the district has to adhere to. A lot of district have policies similar to this, however we fell that having something that's very prescriptive strict in terms of what these policies should require will benefit not only the school districts, but the students and teachers themselves," Culberson said.
Until that happens, there's deep concern the problem will only continue to grow. "What it's going to come down to is, it's going to take a concentrated effort to try and root out these problems, but at the same time, it's not going to happen overnight, but we're certainly trying," Culberson said.
Texas Penal Code 21.12 - Improper Relationship Between Educator and Student
- Employee of Public or Private School
- Sexual contact w/person enrolled at same district
- Is a holder of a certificate or permit issued by SBEC
- Second degree felony (2-20 years)
When a district is notified of allegations, they're required to launch an investigation immediately and notify the TEA within seven days. A criminal investigation is also launched and the tea will hold off on theirs until that investigation is over. While an educator can be charged criminally, the TEA can only take action against a teacher's certification. If guilty, educators can be sanctioned and have their certification revoked.
There are some cases where school districts fail to notify the TEA immediately following an accusation of sexual misconduct, abuse, or neglect by a teacher. In some instances, the accused teachers move to another school or district.
Texas Senator Paul Bettencourt filed a bill - "Pass the Trash" - that would punish principals and superintendents who fail to report the allegations.
Not All Cases Involve a Crime
- Case involves sex between an educator and a student, however, the student attends a school district other than the district employing the educator.
- Sexual contact is suspected but can't be proven.
- No sexual contact alleged, however, inappropriate behavior on the part of the educator exists (solicitation of a romantic relationship).
- These type of cases are pursued by TEA on behalf of SBEC.