Texas Education Agency investigators see increase in teacher-student sexual relations

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HOUSTON — Investigations into alleged sexual relations between educators and students are on the rise, according to the state education agency, mirroring a trend seen nationwide.

The agency's educator investigations unit has begun 74 probes into purported student-teacher relationships in the last five months, spokeswoman Lauren Callahan told The Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1AHCNRW ).

The agency previously reported an uptick of 27 percent over the last three years. The number of investigations rose from 141 during the academic year that ended in 2010 to 179 at year-end 2014.

Former U.S. Department of Education chief of staff Terry Abbott wrote a commentary for The Washington Post arguing "classroom sexual predators have been exploiting" social media services, which have "created an open gateway for inappropriate behavior," the Chronicle noted.

Abbott's Houston-based research firm Drive West Communications, which tracks media reports of inappropriate teacher-student relationship, found that Texas has the largest number of reported teacher sexual misconduct cases in the nation.

If TEA's investigations unit finds enough evidence against an educator or school official, they forward the case to the State Board for Educator Certification's legal team, which conducts its own investigation.

A case is then filed with the State Office of Administrative Hearing, which may schedule a hearing to recommend sanctions — from a repeal of an educator's certifications to a reprimand.

The whole process could take years, Callahan said.

Under the Texas Penal Code, a school district employee commits a second-degree felony if engaging in sexual contact with a student who is not a spouse, even if that student is 18 years of age.

That's punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

Local school district superintendents are statutorily required to report educator-student relationships to TEA and local law enforcement, the agency says in an October news release.

Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

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