Sex with students: Why more Texas teachers are getting caught

HOUSTON – We send our children to school expecting them to be safe, especially with their teachers. An alarming trend shows that trust betrayed when teachers cross the line from what should be solely a professional relationship with students into more personal or sexual relationships.

In recent months teachers from Houston ISD, Spring Branch ISD, Pasadena ISD and Dickinson ISD have been charged for either inappropriate or sexual relationships with students.

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Whitney Laidlaw – 2018 – Charged with Sexual Assault of a Child & Improper relationship with a student

High profile examples of teachers crossing that line include Alexandria Vera, the Aldine Middle School teacher who got pregnant by a 14-year-old student and Michelle Schiffer, the Cypress Springs teacher who had a relationship with a 15-year-old student.

Since the beginning of the 2015-16 school year districts from across the state have reported nearly one thousand teachers to the Texas Education Association for an investigation into whether they were having inappropriate relationships with their students. TEA calls these Casecode 10-IRWSM investigations. IRWSM stands for Inappropriate Relationships with Students or Minors.

Channel 2 Investigates combed through those TEA IRWSM records and found: 2015 - 56 reported cases. 2016 - 243 reported cases - up 334% from 2015. 2017 - 314 reported cases - up 29% from 2016. 2018 - 347 reported cases - up 10% from 2017.

So what's driving the big jumps in the number of cases? According to TEA it comes down to two things. First, smartphones. Smartphones make easy for teachers to privately text and talk with students at any hour of the day or night. Smartphones also make it possible for teachers and students to sext or share intimate photos. The second reason cited for a spike in cases, a change in state law last year requiring principals and superintendents to report suspected inappropriate relationship cases even where there isn't a sexual relationship. Administrators that don't report cases now face sanctions themselves.

In the past, teachers in those lower level cases that didn't involve a sexual relationship may have been allowed quietly quit or move to another district. Educators call it "passing the trash" according to Doug Phillips. He has investigated inappropriate relationships between teachers and students for TEA for two decades. He said, "You can Google "passing the trash" and it'll come up as moving one educator to another district without reporting it."

We asked TEA how many teachers in each school or school district have been investigated? It may surprise you to know TEA doesn't track that. Phillips said TEA only looks at the educator. "It really has no bearing on us whether they're Houston or Dallas or where they're at or what high school or district they're at. It just doesn't have any bearing on our case, we're just dealing with the individual. So no, we do not track that."

TEA does track the names of teachers reported, the date an investigation is opened, the date it is closed, and the status or outcome of the investigation. Channel 2 Investigates combed through those records and found: 293 teachers investigated since 2015 have voluntarily agreed to permanently surrender their license to teach. Those voluntary teaching license surrenders are reported to a national database where the information is shared with other states. This is intended to prevent teachers from just moving somewhere else and getting another teaching job.

About 275, or one-third of the teachers reported to TEA since 2015 still have pending investigations in the works. It can take weeks, or even months to complete an investigation, but during that time, teachers that are under investigation are not in the classroom.

TEA records show there are 46 cases where legal action is pending against the teacher. The records indicate 63 teachers have been reprimanded as a result of an investigation and 43 had their teaching license temporarily suspended.

In 139 cases investigated since 2015, no further action taken against the teacher because there was either no evidence or not enough evidence found that wrong-doing took place. Phillips told Channel 2 Investigates “inappropriate relationships between teachers and students” is a big, broad category.

It includes everything from educators just starting to cross that fine line between a professional teacher/student relationship all the way up to teachers having sex with students. He said, "They start having personal conversations. Not necessarily sexual or anything like that, but just personal. It becomes criminal when things turn sexual."

Phillips said the majority of cases TEA investigates involve a male teacher around 39 years old and a sixteen or 17-year-old female student. But, he is quick to add, "We see some 60 year olds all the way down to brand new fresh teachers."

When TEA looked at where these inappropriate relationships happened it found no school system is immune, but more cases tend to happen in smaller to medium size districts.

How does it happen? Phillips said a lot of cases begin when a teacher appears to take a student under his or her wing. This is why parents have to pay close attention to how teachers communicate with their child. If a teacher is overly friendly or unnecessarily supportive of your child it could indicate a problem.

Sometimes inappropriate relationships begin with the educator feeling he or she is providing the student with a parental figure, according to Phillips, but then things change.

"It becomes almost a dating relationship where they kinda start to woo the student up to where they actually do start dating the student, or there is some sort of limited physical contact or some sort of sexual contact," Philips said. "Once we get to sexual contact then we cross into the penal code. Everything before that we call soliciting a romantic relationship or involved in a romantic relationship."

Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. Karen Lawson is a licensed sex offender treatment provider. She has treated several teachers that had inappropriate relationships with their students. Lawson told Channel 2 investigates she has seen a common thread among them.

"Every time I have evaluated someone where this has occurred, there has been involvement of interacting with each other through the use of cell phones," she said. "It's very secretive, furtive, easy to interact with each other without being monitored."

Lawson also cautions, "There's been a long history of victims being blamed." However, it is not the student who is at fault.

"The responsibility rests on the adult, on the teacher, to maintain impeccable boundaries," she said.

Lawson said this is especially true when educators are at off-campus school or social events as well as on social media.

To protect children she said, "Parents do need to be vigilant.”

Lawson's recommendation to parents:

1. Pay attention to where your children are, especially after school 2. Know who is with them on outings for school or other activities and who is providing the rides 3. Know who they are communicating with on social media 4. If you don't know what their texts mean ... ASK!!

Lawson said, "Young people certainly use a lot of code words and a lot of abbreviations. A parent should not be afraid to ask what does this mean? What does this initial stand for? Who is this? Who's that person? Why are they following you? What is the event you all are talking about?”

When it comes to recognizing there may be a problem, Lawson said, "Parents need to follow their gut feeling."

If something feels wrong or off, let the school know so an investigation can be launched.

Phillips' recommendation to parents:

1. Know who your kids are dating - make sure it's not the teacher even if the student and teacher are fairly close in age. Teachers are authority figures and under no circumstances allowed to date students.

2. If you suspect it is happening, report it to your child's school principal to investigate.

3. If you think your child has been sexually abused by or is in a sexual relationship with a teacher report it to police and CPS as well as the school.

4. Don't be reluctant to report to police or press charges. He said, “these people generally will repeat if they're cut loose if nothing happens to them.”

Producer's Note:

At the beginning of this school year, several teachers were charged with having inappropriate or sexual relationships with students. It prompted us to contact TEA to ask how many teachers in our area schools had been the targets of investigations? TEA responded that it could provide a list of teachers investigated for inappropriate relationships from across the state and the status or outcome of the investigation, but it did not track where the investigated teachers worked because state law doesn't require it.

To try to match teachers on the Casecode-10 IRWSM list to the schools where they taught we got the master teacher lists for the past three academic years from TEA. The list for the current academic year was not yet available.

These lists are massive.

As we matched names from the IRWSM list to the teacher master lists we quickly found a problem. The teacher master lists were inconsistent. Some years there would be a full first, middle and last name, in other years there would only be a first and last name, or instead of a middle name, there would be just an initial.

There was also an issue with common names popping up as matches to multiple districts. We attempted to resolve those issues by asking individual school districts to verify whether names on the IRWSM list that appeared to match their school rosters were indeed teachers from their district that had been investigated. We found while some common names did match a school district’s roster, the teacher in that district with that name had never been investigated.

We also tried to verify names by cross-referencing teachers on the IRWSM list with law enforcement cases. Not all teachers that are investigated by TEA for inappropriate relationships with students are charged with crimes. We could only match a small percentage of names using law enforcement records.

The list below shows what we were able to confirm in some of the larger school districts in our viewing area. We are being conservative with our results. We have only named teachers with action taken against their teaching license as a result of a Casecode 10 WRWSM investigation by TEA.

We are not publishing the names where TEA investigations are still in progress or awaiting legal action because we do not want to tarnish an educator's reputation if allegations against them turn out to be unfounded. If action is taken against an educator's license in the future we will update these lists.

Aldine ISD: 3 Administrative Closure - this means no further action was taken against the teachers by TEA 1 case is still pending investigation Chance L. Gillett - licence revocation Eber Jaime Lopez - voluntary license surrender

Alief ISD: 2 cases are pending investigation

Clear Creek ISD: Danielle Y Vermillion- reprimand Zachary Thomas Mooney - voluntary license surrender Matthew D Poole - voluntary license surrender Christopher Stewart - voluntary license surrender

Cypress Fairbanks ISD: 1 case is still pending legal proceedings Alfredo Campos - voluntary license surrender Jonathan De Avila - voluntary license surrender Brian T Drake - voluntary license surrender Nicole A Jakubiak - voluntary license surrender Lyndsy E Maus - voluntary license surrender

Fort Bend ISD: 4 cases pending investigation 1 case pending legal proceedings Drew Daniel Danford - voluntary license surrender Jamaal Phi Nguyen - voluntary license surrender

Galveston ISD: 1 case pending investigation

Goose Creek ISD: I case pending investigation Craig A Jones - reprimand

Houston ISD: 1 administrative closure - no further action taken against teacher by TEA 4 pending investigations Kevin Deion Smith - reprimand Albert Lee Randall - revocation Mark Thomas Arnold - voluntary license surrender Lionell Crawford - voluntary license surrender Seth K Mintz - voluntary license surrender Elbert D Reed - voluntary license surrender

Humble ISD: 1 pending investigation 1 pending legal proceedings Jaime Cuellar - revocation Armando O Garza - voluntary license surrender Sara D Temko - voluntary license surrender

Katy ISD: (as of publication time, the district had not confirmed potential matches)

Klein ISD: David Paul Dionne - suspension Drew Daniel Danford - voluntary license surrender

Pasadena ISD: (as of publication time the district had not confirmed potential matches. It did indicate that 9 possible matches no longer work for the district. We will update when we can match more accurately)

Spring Branch ISD: 1 Administrative Closure - no further action was taken against the teacher by TEA 1 pending investigation Kevin Douglas Stotts - voluntary surrender

Yes Prep Public Schools Inc: 1 pending investigation 1 pending legal proceedings