AMARILLO, Texas - Reports of Texas teachers having inappropriate relationships with students are on track to beat last year's record total.
The Texas Education Agency reports it has launched 162 investigations of reported inappropriate teacher-student relationships between Sept. 1 and May 31. The Amarillo Globe-News reports that the agency had 188 investigations last fiscal year, marking at least the fifth year of growth in a row.
The issue in Texas shot back into the national spotlight after it was revealed last week that former Houston-area teacher Alexandria Vera, 24, had been impregnated by a then-13-year-old former student.
Court documents allege she was introduced to his family as the boy's girlfriend, and the woman said that his parents supported the relationship and invited her to family gatherings. She reportedly said she told a school district investigator the family was "very supportive and excited" when she disclosed her pregnancy. She allegedly said she and the boy "love each other."
According to the probable cause document, she aborted the pregnancy after a child welfare investigator questioned her in February about the relationship, which she denied at the time.
Texas lawmakers could address the topic of such relationships during next year's legislative session. The state Senate held a hearing on the subject in December, and the Texas House Public Education Committee took similar testimony last month. At the House committee hearing, lawmakers and testimony from experts blamed social media.
"In the past, you might not have had students choosing to interact socially with a teacher. Now they'll friend them on Facebook or they'll reach out to them on Snapchat," Kathy Tortoreo, director of crisis services at Family Support Services in Amarillo, told the Globe-News.
"The adult is supposed to understand the boundary, and the adult is supposed to uphold the boundary," Tortoreo said.
Christina Green, director of the Children's Advocacy Centers of Texas, testified before the House panel on the importance of training school staff to spot abuse. Green urged schools to implement policies setting boundaries for social media use by faculty.
"Our goal, outside of preventing these inappropriate relationships from ever developing, should be to identify and quash these cases at the point of grooming before any abuse happens," she said.
Green said it's important not to pretend the issue doesn't exist.
"The part that's hardest is having the courage to initiate a lot of these conversations," she said. "This is not an issue that people like to talk about."