Lufkin, Nacogdoches school districts explain educator-student relationship policies

EAST TEXAS (KTRE) - Within the first three months of this year there have already been 26 cases of inappropriate relationships involving teachers and their students in Texas. The chief of staff at the U.S. department of education keeps track of each case along with the 200 cases nationwide this year.

You may recall the case of the former Mineola teacher, Joann Stephens, who had an inappropriate relationship with a then 15-year-old student for years as they stayed in contact with each other through text messages.

During her trial in April 2011 the judge told her, "The reason this is a crime is because the legislature decided it is very important that teachers understand the students in their care are not to be objects of their sexual affection."

Suzy Ragan feels a lot of people don't realize there is no privacy when communicating electronically.

"I think that our culture is going in that direction where we have more electronic communication, but I think we just need to be reminded of what's appropriate and what's not," Suzy Ragan, Lufkin H.S. social studies department head, said.

While text messaging students is considered inappropriate communication in many employee handbooks for Texas educators, it's also a warning that social network communication should be avoided.

East Texas school districts continue to monitor teachers' personal social media pages to make sure nothing inappropriate is going on.

"We have a social media policy that has some standards for communications between educators and students. Educators can't communicate with students between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.," Coby Wilbanks, Nacogdoches ISD Policy Specialist, said.

This same policy was broken by former Hudson ISD teacher, Clark Lewing, who plead guilty to improper relationships outside of the classroom. He stated he knew the then 14-year-old student a year before having relations with her in 2008. Knowing a student and being able to communicate with them outside of school is only acceptable in certain circumstances.

"There are exceptions for social and family relationships. The educator may have a relationship with a student that's a niece of nephew, or maybe they work with students at a church, or at boy scouts, or some other community organization and there are exceptions for that," Wilbanks said.

These exceptions are places into a policy to maintain appropriate educator - student relationships.

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