Blurring the Lines: Inappropriate student-teacher relationships

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The word “inappropriate” includes suggestive communication, either in person, via email, texting or sexual relations between a teacher and a student.

Alabama has a 50,000 teachers, and while those who cross the line make up only a small percentage of the people dedicated to the calling of educating our children.

They do harm that can affect a young life for lifetime.

Mary G. Montgomery teacher Alicia Gray apologized for blurring the line with a 14-year-old student before going to jail.

Spain Park High School teacher Stephanie Millard went to jail as well after admitting to having sex with a student.

Both teachers were convicted under Alabama’s Newton Act, which Jefferson County Chief Deputy Randy Christian says was long overdue.

“It started being reported quite often, which was a real red flag that there was a problem,” Christian said. “Generally, a problem that doesn’t have a specific law that pertains to it, our legislature will create one. That’s what happened, I think. They were trying to deter that type of activity in the past. If they were 16, there wasn’t really a law that addressed that.”

The law went into effect in 2010.

According to a graph showing criminal cases since Newton’s Act, 30 cases were reported before the law, 89 cases have been reported since it was enacted.

“We are getting better reporting as a result of this now being criminalize,” Crowther said.

Attorneys Susan Tudor Crowther and James Ward III are associates in the Office of General Counsel for the Alabama Department of Education.

Crowther’s article “Hot For Teacher: When good teachers go bad” in a school board trade publication talks about a case that happened in Alabama in 2011.

“There was a shoplifting that had occurred, and they confiscated the phone as part of the search,” Crowther said. “In the course of looking for messages to see if it had to do with the shoplifting, there was messages back and forth between the teacher and the student that was suggesting that they get together for an inappropriate relationship.”

Crowther says the student was shoplifting condoms, and the teacher had been selected as Teacher of the Year before text messages revealed their relationship.

The mother of M.G.M teacher Alicia Gray’s victim says that’s what happened with her son.

Right now, teacher-student texting policies are left up to individual school districts in Alabama.

UAB clinical psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow tells parents it’s better to err on the side of safety than on the side of privacy.

“When it all boils down, it is your child. They are living in your home, under your roof. They do not know how to navigate the world as you do,” Klapow said. “As uncomfortable as you may feel, you still need to be in charge of their connections.”

Even when the lines of communication are with their teachers.

To read the articles written by Crowther, click here and here.

To read a copy the memos sent out each quarter by the State Superintendent, click herehere and here.

Visit the McKinley Reports website by clicking here.

2014 WIAT-TV CBS42

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