As we have previously discussed, a recent article published in Education Week entitled Policies Target Teacher-Student Cyber Talk suggests that some educators and pupils are informally connecting and chatting online with increasing frequency, where relatively innocent interactions may have the potential to escalate into inappropriate relationships. While such cases seem to occur rarely, a few recent ones are worthy of mention.
For example, Gianfranco Maucione, a former high school math teacher and soccer coach in New Jersey, was arrested and charged with criminal sexual contact, child endangerment and official misconduct after exchanging sexually-explicit pictures and text messages with a 16 year-old student and instructing her to touch herself in a sexual manner. In another incident, Christy Lynn Martin, a former middle school teacher, was sentenced to five years’ probation for sending pornographic images to one of her eighth-grade students, whom she called “her husband.” In another instance, a former teacher was arrested for exchanging hundreds of graphic texts and emails with a student. In an even more surprising case, a former teacher was arrested after exchanging over 400 sexually explicit texts and having hour-long phone sex calls with a student.
These cases should open the eyes of school staff members to the risks and consequences that interaction with students via nonschool-based electronic mediums may possibly bring. Apart from the devastating consequences on the reputation of a school district, as well as civil liability, educators who abuse these technologies may lose their job and/or license, and be subject to criminal prosecution and even life as a registered sex offender.
Louisiana has enacted a new state law requiring all school districts to formulate and implement policies which require documentation of every electronic communication between teachers and students made through a nonschool-issued device, such as a personal e-mail account or a cell phone. This documentation process consists of filling out an electronic form within 24 hours of the interaction, which will be sent to the school administration explaining the reason for the contact. Under the new law, parents also have the option of prohibiting any communication between teachers and their child by means of personal electronic devices.
Personally, I think this law is not a great idea. It will have a trivial deterrent effect, and will be unenforceable in many cases. Electronic communications between teachers and students will largely occur on personal accounts and personal Internet connections and cannot be proactively policed or monitored. The documentation process may help provide a paper trail, but I feel that administrators will get bogged down attempting to review these communications a timely manner to prevent the development of improper interactions.
Finally, just because parents have the option to “prohibit” communication between teachers and students, doesn’t mean they will, or that it will do any good. Parents might be hesitant to do so with the concern that their student would miss out on learning and educational opportunities that peers are receiving. Even if they do, it seems a very nominal measure with little, if any, teeth. I will continue my thoughts on this issue in a future blog post.