According to KTRK ABC 13 News, a former Houston Independent School District teacher stands accused of having two separate inappropriate relationships with two middle school students with whom she has been barred from communication. The teacher was fired from the school district in August of 2022 – after the alleged abuse happened that summer.
While shocking, charges associated with abuse by teachers are more common than you may think. If you have been charged with a crime involving abuse of a child, seeking the legal counsel of an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney early in the process is the surest means of protecting your legal rights and obtaining a beneficial case resolution.
In the charging documents, the 25-year-old teacher is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a 13-year-old girl whom she took to the mall, to a waterpark, to see a movie, and to the teacher’s home, where they watched a movie on her bed together. The young girl shared that, from here, things became more physical.
During the teacher’s interview with Houston police – the investigating agency – she relayed her belief that the young student was her “person” and that she had purchased matching rings to symbolize their bond. Texts between the two demonstrated an inappropriate level of attachment.
During the course of this investigation, the police learned that the same teacher had conducted another allegedly inappropriate relationship with a former student who had moved on to high school, also in the summer of 2022. While the 14-year-old female student shared that they had kissed, text records indicate that the teacher had broached more sexual topics with her.
For her part, the teacher had the following to say:
Regarding the 13-year-old student: “She made a mistake, but she is not a bad person.”
Regarding the 14-year-old student: “She is not the only one to blame for the relationship. [We] both made a mistake.”
While the teacher was fired from her position in August, the Texas Education Agency lists her license as “under review,” which means it remains active until a determination from the investigation is forthcoming.
The teacher was arrested and charged in October, and her bail was recently set at $55,000, with $40,000 for the charge of indecency with a child and $15,000 for the charge of improper relationship with a student.
Texas: Harsh Penalties Related to Teachers and Improper Relationships
The State of Texas has issued increasingly harsh mandates concerning teachers found guilty of sexual or otherwise improper relationships with children. These actions are in response to such relationships being on the rise.
MySanAntonio.com reports that, in a recent year, the number of improper teacher-student relationships rose by a full 36 percent. That year, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) opened 302 investigations into such relationships to continue a seven-year streak in which the number of investigations increased year by year.
The consequences of improper relationship charges can be very serious. If you’re facing allegations of this nature, reach out to a skilled Killeen criminal defense attorney right away.
Improper Relationships and Texas Law
For the relationship between a teacher and student to be classified as improper, any form of sexual conduct suffices. The rising number of these improper relationships across the state gave rise to increased vigilance in Texas, and two new laws have been implemented to protect students. The laws include all of the following requirements:
When teachers are terminated or resign after accusations of improper relationships, principals are required to report these occurrences to school superintendents.
The penalties for superintendents who fail to report misconduct to TEA are enhanced.
The teaching certificates of all educators who are required to register as sex offenders are automatically revoked.
Teachers who engage in improper relationships with students not only lose their teaching licenses but also lose their taxpayer pensions.
The Issue Is Not Unique to Texas
Cases related to improper relationships with students and indecency with a child are on the rise throughout the nation. Consider this recent example reported in People Magazine involving a North Carolina teacher:
The 37-year-old teacher was once nominated for Teacher of the Year.
The North Carolina teacher began as a substitute but became a full-time English teacher at a high school in 2021.
In September of 2022, she was accused of sexual abuse of a child.
She resigned soon after the accusation was made and was taken into custody the same day.
The teacher requested that her bail be set as low as possible – to allow her to continue caring for her four children.
The judge went in another direction and set her bail at $1 million.
The vulnerability of children who are in the direct care of their teachers and educators makes improper relationship charges – and worse – that much more challenging.
Social Media Cuts Both Ways
The proliferation of social media has had two primary effects on the matter of charges related to improper relationships with a student, and they are diametrically opposed.
Fostering Improper Relationships with Students
There has perhaps never been a better platform for the grooming of students by teachers than social media. It is nearly impossible for parents to patrol every inroad the internet affords their children into connections with others, and sometimes, the person on the other end of that connection is a teacher.
The relationship between teacher and student is based on trust, but the relationship is very lopsided in all the following ways:
The teacher is in a position of authority and is responsible for the child’s care and welfare throughout the school day.
The teacher is trusted by the school, the school system, other teachers, and parents to support and care for children – without ever causing them harm.
Children naturally look up to their teachers. And even when they do not look up to them, they do generally respect – or at least fear – them.
In other words, students have little chance of overcoming a teacher’s careful grooming – and it is very unlikely that their parents or anyone else will notice. It is normal for teachers to take special interest in their students, and nothing is likely to stand out unless a parent stumbles on an inappropriate text, message, or voicemail or the child finds the courage to speak out.
Providing Valuable Information in the Face of Improper Relationship Charges
On the other hand, social media can also serve as a valuable tool for proving that a teacher had an improper relationship with a student.
The surest way to connect with today’s youth is via their phones and electronic devices, and evidence of improper relationships almost invariably flows from these sources – and is exceptionally difficult to get rid of or hide.
Sometimes, it is a matter of children speaking out and showing their parents the exchanges, but in other instances, it is a matter of children leaving clues – such as putting their phones out for display – or is a matter of parents sensing that something is happening and doing some investigating.
Ultimately, the entire relationship can be conducted online – without any inappropriate physical manifestation – and still lead to criminal charges.
Improper Relationship between Educator and Student in Texas
While the age of consent is 17 in Texas, this has no bearing on charges alleging improper relationships between educators and students in the state. In Texas, any employees of a public or private primary or secondary school can be charged with the crime of improper relationship between educators and students when any of the following specifics apply:
They engage in any form of sexual contact with students who are enrolled at the schools in which they work.
They engage in any form of sexual contact with students whom they know to be enrolled in schools that are in the same districts in which they work.
They engage in any form of sexual contact with students who are participants in educational activities at which the educators provide educational services to the students.
They engage in online solicitation of students who fall into any of the above categories.
An improper relationship with a student conviction can lead to up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. As such, it is essential to have strong legal guidance when facing charges of an improper relationship. Contact a skilled Killeen criminal defense attorney for the help you need.
What Constitutes an Improper Relationship in Texas?
All the following acts are deemed improper between a teacher and a student in the State of Texas:
Sexual contact with the child
Sexual intercourse with the child
Deviate sexual intercourse with the child, which refers to any contact between any part of the genitals of one person and the mouth or the anus of another or the penetration of one person’s genitals or anus with an object
When the alleged crime in question involves only electronic communications – with no physical conduct – the charge of online solicitation of a minor can be levied.
Does the Alleged Improper Relationship Have to Occur during School Hours?
Any alleged sexual act between an educator and student can generate an improper relationship charge – regardless of when it happens and where it happens.
What If the Student in Question Is an Adult Who Has already Turned 18?
When it comes to the charge of improper relationship with a student, the issue is not solely the child’s age. The charge also relates to the inequity in the relationship between the educator and the student.
Employees of the school have authority over students, which is what guides these charges. As such, even if the student in question has already reached or exceeded the age of consent, which is 17, a charge of improper relationship with a student can be levied.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Improper Relationship Laws?
There are two highly specific exceptions to the laws that focus on improper relationships between educators and students.
If the educator and the student are married, the charge does not apply. While this exception is rarely applicable, it can be in extraordinary circumstances.
For example, if a young married couple moves into a school district and one of them takes a position as a teacher while the other finishes his or her senior year in high school within the same district, their relationship would not breach any legal boundaries. Exceptions of this kind are not difficult to prove – the couple is either legally married or they are not.
Age and Prior Relationship
If the educator is no more than three years older than that student and the couple began their relationship before the educator took the job at the student’s school, an exception applies.
However, a good deal of gray area is built into this exception. For example, proving exactly when a relationship became sexual can be challenging – especially when the parties disagree on the matter.
Who Is Included in the Educator Category?
Texas employs the term educator broadly, and it can apply to any of the following positions within the school in question:
It’s Time to Consult with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney
Criminal charges that involve the abuse of children are especially serious, and if you have been charged, it is time to take action. Your career and future are too important not to take an improper relationship charge exceptionally seriously.
While it is a very stressful situation, it is necessary to remember that false accusations are not particularly uncommon and that your legal rights are well worth protecting.
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a formidable criminal defense attorney whose focus is on building the strongest defense for each of his clients. To learn more about what Mr. Pritchard and his impressive legal team can do to help you, please do not wait to reach out and contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 today.