Social media has been suggested as a cause of the increase in reports of illicit teacher-student relationships in Texas.
Last year, Texas set a record of 188 cases of teacher sexual abuse, and this year seems to be measuring up to be similar, if not beating last year's number. This is the sixth year in a row that the reported number of sexual abuse cases in the state has grown, reports the Associated Press.
Since September 1st, 2015, the Texas Education Agency has begun 162 investigations into allegations, reports Claire Ballor of the Dallas Morning News.
According to experts, the ease of beginning sexual relationships with students has increased as it becomes normal for teachers and students to interact on social media. The grooming process, which acclimates minors to being abused by their elders, can thereby begin outside of school hours.
Kathy Tortoreo, the director of crisis services at Family Support Services in Amarillo, said:
In the past, you might not have had students choosing to interact socially with a teacher. Now they'll friend them on Facebook or they'll reach out to them on Snapchat.
The adult is supposed to understand the boundary, and the adult is supposed to uphold the boundary.
Christina Green, director of Children's advocacy Centers of Texas, testified at the Texas House Public Education Committee last month. She asked schools to set up policies that put boundaries on teachers' social media use. She said:
Our goal, outside of preventing these inappropriate relationships from ever developing, should be to identify and quash these cases at the point of grooming before any abuse happens.
She also spoke about the challenges inherent in dealing with these cases.
The part that's hardest is having the courage to initiate a lot of these conversations. This is not an issue that people like to talk about.
This issue may be addressed by the Texas legislature during their 2017 session.
Several of these Texas sexual abuse cases have made headlines.
A Stovall Middle School teacher, Alexandria Vera, 24, had a long-term sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student, and then aborted the resulting pregnancy. After she announced the pregnancy in January, she and the boy and his family were excited about it, but she had an abortion after questioning by Child Protective Services. She turned herself in after a warrant was put out for her arrest. Their relationship began after the student contacted her via Snapchat, reports Arthur Weinreb of the Digital Journal.
According to Amarillo.com, Heath McLeod of Hereford High School, age 28, was indicted last year for engaging in sexual activity with a student at his school. He is still certified to teach certain subjects, but he remains under investigation by the State Board for Educator Certification's Professional Discipline Unit.
Other cases include a special ed teacher who made child porn at a school in Mansfield, a Duncanville teacher who is now serving a 10-year sentence for raping a student with Asperger's syndrome, and a PE teacher in Plano was accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a student.