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Education

Why It's Hard to Stop Teacher-Student Relationships in Texas High Schools

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Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune
TEA general counsel, Von Byer during the Senate Education Committee on December 7, 2015.

The number of investigations involving teacher-student relationships has increased 53 percent in Texas over the past seven years—188 cases so far this year. The State Senate Education Committee met this week to discuss ways to reduce these relationships, but that may be tougher than they realized.

Toward the beginning of the discussion, Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) had one goal.

“For all the kids out there and parents and everybody’s lives that are affected by this, I want y’all’s recommendations on how to stamp this out,” he said.

While everyone at the hearing agreed these relationships are wrong, lawmakers spent the majority of the day learning how difficult it can be to identify inappropriate relations and investigate them in a court of law. Social media allows these relationships to flourish. Teachers can contact students at home at all hours on a variety of platforms. 

Doug Phillips investigates possible inappropriate relationships for the state:

“It starts out as ‘Hey Susie, great day, great game’ then we have to watch. What’s the next interaction? Is there another interaction? What happens after that?” Phillips says. “It doesn’t go right from zero to 60. It’s a grooming process, when we deal with these.”

In Texas, it is illegal for a school district employee to have sex with any student in the same school district, but other contact isn’t explicitly illegal.

“It’s not against the law to date a student,” Phillips says. “It’s not against the law to kiss a student, but it is inappropriate.”

When the state does investigate a teacher, it can be hard to collect proof.

Some lawmakers said it’s hard to expect teachers to report their coworkers. Lawmakers and experts who testified suggested more professional development to reinforce appropriate communication with students. They also recommended requiring teachers to copy supervisors and parents on emails and texts. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick named improper teacher-student relationships as one of its interim charges.

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