The role of social media
Social media networks facilitate student and teacher communications outside of the classroom. Students may be encouraged to reach out with questions about an assignment or extracurricular activity led by the educator. Sometimes, students or teachers step over the line of what parents consider an appropriate educator-student relationship.
Parents may become concerned that teachers and students are communicating too frequently or that these communications are inappropriate. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for an educator to find himself or herself falsely accused of misconduct with a student.
Are you accused of having an improper student-teacher relationship?
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Senate Bill 7 Addresses Inappropriate Student-Teacher Relationships
Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently signed Senate Bill 7 (SB 7) into law. The measure affects principals and superintendents who fail to report the alleged misconduct of teachers regarding inappropriate student-teacher relationships.
Legislators called the tide of sexual misconduct complaints against teachers a statewide plague. SB 7 went into effect on September 1, 2017.
According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), 222 investigations alleging inappropriate educator-student relationships were opened in 2015-16. By January 31, 2017, TEA reported 97 new incidents were reported between the months of September 2016 to January 2017, a 43 percent increase year-over-year.
Under the law:
- Teachers charged with an inappropriate student-teacher relationship even if the student isn’t registered in the district.
- Teachers will have their teaching certificates revoked if they accept a deferred adjudication of guilt.
- Convicted teachers will be ordered to register as sex offenders.
- A teacher with a felony conviction for continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual assault, or improper relationship between an educator and student will face pension revocation.
SB 7addresses the new requirements of school administrators, superintendents, and principals:
- If an administrator fails to report an incident, he or she may face a state jail felony punishable by a six-month to two-year jail sentence and/or a maximum $10,000 fine. (Tex. Penal Code Sec. 12.35)
- An administrator who helps a teacher with a known history of sexual misconduct faces revocation of their certificates.
- Before the new law, administrators merely faced sanctions by the State Board of Educator Certification (not a criminal act).
Educators Must Protect Themselves
Many schools promote engagement with students on social media. It’s not uncommon for teachers to provide parents and students with an email address or other contact information in the event that either needs to communicate outside of the classroom.
However, it’s important for educators to draw a firm bright line between themselves and students:
- Discourage any student’s attention on your role as a teacher or administrator
- Don’t prompt students to become friends on Facebook or connections on LinkedIn
- Never text or exchange messages with a student or mentee on a social network, computer, or mobile device
- Note the student’s behavior (write a memo to superiors and/or create file memos)
- Discuss the student’s behavior with superiors
- Get help: refer the student to a guidance counselor or school psychologist if the behavior persists
- Meet with the student’s parent-guardian in the company of administrative superiors
Realize that SB 7 and increased prosecutorial interest in the matter of inappropriate educator-student relationships places you, your position, and retirement pension at risk. Take steps to prevent a complaint before it happens if possible.
Accusations of Sexual Misconduct or Statutory Rape
Clearly, an accusation of an improper relationship with a student is a serious matter. An allegation of statutory rape or sexual misconduct can destroy your life. It will tarnish your good name and potentially blemish your standing within the community.
An allegation of an improper relationship between an educator and student can cost you friends, family members, and a good job.
Do not wait to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Don’t assume that, because you know the allegations are false, the court will establish your innocence. The sooner you involve a knowledgeable legal professional in the case, the better.
Teachers and administrators must avoid intimacy with students over the age of 18
A teacher may be considered to engage in a salacious relationship with a pupil even if he or she is over the age of 18. Texas laws also say that it doesn’t matter if the student doesn’t take classes offered by the educator.
Sexual misconduct might not have occurred between the teacher or educator and the student but it’s often alleged by the plaintiffs.
Punishments for Inappropriate Teacher-Student Relationships in Texas
In addition, an allegation of a lewd affair with a student can result in criminal charges such as:
- Sexual misconduct with a minor
- Statutory rape
- Child endangerment, a child abuse crime
- Lewdness with a minor
All of these crimes may include jail or prison time, fines, mandatory counseling as a sex offender, and/or probation. As noted, if the defendant is convicted, he or she may be required to register as a sex offender and be prohibited from working with juvenile persons in the future.
If you or someone you love has been accused of an improper or inappropriate relationship with a student, mentee, or protégé, it’s imperative to get legal help from an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Early intervention of a qualified defense lawyer can mean the difference between freedom and time behind bars.
Possible Legal Defenses for a Sexual Student-Teacher Relationship
According to the Texas Penal Code:
- A teacher or administrator can’t be charged with sexual misconduct if he or she is married to the student in question.
- If the teacher or educator was intimately involved before the student was enrolled at the school (or another school district), the union might be acceptable when the difference is ages is three years or less.
Contact an Inappropriate Educator-Student Relationship Attorney in Houston
The matter of inappropriate educator-student relationships is highly sensitized today. Naturally, educators, administrators, prosecutors, lawmakers, and parents want to prevent sexual predators from entering the classroom.
Innocent educators may be caught in the crossfire.
If you have been charged with an inappropriate educator-student relationship, or if you are an administrator facing charges because you failed to report an incident at your school or within your district, realize this is a legal emergency.
You need an experienced criminal defense attorney now. Brett A. Podolsky, a board-certified criminal lawyer, will protect your legal rights. Call the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky in Houston at 713-227-0087 to schedule an initial case evaluation.