In the face of COVID-19 and widespread online teaching, teachers need to be aware of the pitfalls of engaging in social media contacts with students.
In recent years, the number of teachers flagged statewide for having sex and other inappropriate relationships with students continues to rise.
During the 2016 to 2017 fiscal year, the Texas Education Agency tracked 302 relationships between educators and students. During fiscal 2017-18, TEA tracked 429 cases into inappropriate student-educator relationships and in 2018 to 2019 fiscal year, TEA tracked 442 inappropriate relationships.
The steady increase of inappropriate relationships is linked to the increased popularity of text messaging and social media which allows teachers to have far more ways to interact with their students outside the classroom.
While not all teacher-student contact on social media is bad as some communication could be related to schoolwork, there however remains a heightened risk of crossing the line between appropriate and inappropriate communication.
Communication that does not result in a sexual relationship between the educator and the student can lead to a charge of inappropriate communication. Messages that are not sexual per-se can be regarded as inappropriate if a reasonable person can infer sexual undertones to the messages.
It is therefore a risky venture for an educator to contact a student via social media.
Here are 5 good reasons why teacher-student social media contact is a bad idea.
1. Sex crime: Texas Penal Code Sec 21.12 states that any school employee who engages in sexual conduct with a person enrolled at that school has committed a felony of the second degree. Even if the relationship is not ultimately consummated, it is considered solicitation of a sexual or romantic relationship which is still considered a sex crime. Such employee could face prison time and have difficulty gaining employment in the future.
2. Permanent loss of Teaching Certificate: The Texas State Board for Educator Certification will revoke the teaching certificate of an educator found to have engaged in an appropriate relationship with a student regardless of whether the student in enrolled in the same school as the educator.
3. Loss of Pension: An educator who is a member of the Texas Teacher Retirement System and is convicted of felonies that involve sexual abuse of a student or minor will lose his retirement annuity from the Texas retirement system.
4. Name Entered into the Public Do-Not-Hire Registry: An educator who is found to have engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a student will be placed in a public Do-Not-Hire Registry. This is an internet registry of persons not eligible for employment in a school district, charter schools, education service center, or shared services arrangement. Private schools and the general public are provided access to the registry.
5. Loss of Support from the Education System:
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act prohibits state educational agencies and school districts from aiding an educator in obtaining a new job if there is probable cause to believe there has been sexual misconduct with a minor or student. This is known as “passing the trash”. Applicants to school district positions must submit a pre-employment affidavit disclosing a charge, adjudication or conviction based on an inappropriate relationship with a minor. Upon disclosing such charge, the employment application will be automatically rejected.