The state of Alabama has received bad grades for a number of things in the past, but one failing grade, according to a 2014 study, really stands out.
The study, compiled by a former U.S. department of education staffer Terry Abbott, found Alabama is ground zero for teachers convicted or accused of having sex with students. Several cases have made headlines this year alone, and it has some parents concerned.
“On a rate basis; Alabama had a higher rate of incidents of school employees sexually assaulting students than any other state in the nation and that’s a black mark that we don’t want in our state,” said Abbott.
One of the most shocking cases of teachers being accused of or charged with sleeping with their student happened in the city of OPP in 2015. 1 female teachers there was arrested after being accused of having inappropriate relationships with two of her students.
Records compiled by the state board of education show the highest number of teacher/student sex allegations, 51, were investigated in 2014. 2015 came in second with 46 cases. And so far this year, 26 cases are being investigated.
“What we’re talking about here is sexual assault of children by teachers. The people those children are supposed to trust most in this world and those are the ones taking advantage of these children. So, Alabama’s got to get serious about it just like every other state does,” said Abbott.
“I hate that Alabama has that reputation I really truly think that we just do a better job of catching these cases,” said Susan Crowther, General Counsel for the Alabama Department of Education.
Tracking reports of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students are among Crowther’s duties. She says Alabama does take this issue seriously and points to the state law that criminalizes teachers having sex with students. “We have in the past done some training we have the mega conference in mobile every summer and I recently went to AEA and done some training; I’ve done that for the last couple of years and the career teach conference.”
Crowther says she finds in most of these cases, social media opened the door that led to the inappropriate behavior that got teachers into trouble. Terry Abbott’s study backs up that claim.
“I don’t think they go in with intent that it’ll develop into a relationship. I think they go in through the texting Facebook communication and before they know it those boundaries between the teacher and student have gotten lower and lower and they find themselves in these situation,” said Crowther.
“First of all every school board in Alabama needs to adopt a policy immediately that strictly prohibits secret electronic communication between teachers and students that’s where we should begin,” said Abbott.
State senator Cam Ward says he got the message and tried to get legislation passed that would make it mandatory for teachers to take a course on what’s appropriate behavior on social media when it comes to dealing with students. Due to public outcry, the measure failed.
Ward says some educators and lawmakers thought he was attacking teachers instead of helping with the proposed legislation, but he says that was not the case. “A lot of times the world has changed. A lot of times relationships and conduct and relationships that take place on social media may cross the line that a lot of folks don’t realize,” said Ward.
Ward says even though the bill was shot down during the last legislative session, he plans to make few changes to the bill and reintroduce it next year. “There is no reason that a teacher should send a private text message to a student in the middle of the night and it happens all the time.“
Even though there have been several of these cases reported in recent years, Susan Crowther stresses that the number of Alabama teachers charged in these cases is very small, only about 1 percent.
She says that she’s working on developing a uniform teaching tools that all districts can use to educate teachers on potential pitfalls of social media. Right now, it’s up to each district to decide whether to adopt some sort of policy for its teachers when it comes to teachers using social media to interact with students.