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.
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."