Improper Relationship Between Educator and Student
(Or when is a cigar not simply a cigar?)
A true story provided by a friend from long ago
I would like to start this article with a story – a true story with a happy ending.
In the early 1970’s when I was a high school student in a small town in central Texas, a young football coach and math teacher was hired by our school. In his first year as a teacher and coach, he met and fell in love with one of his students – a senior class coed who was in one of his math classes. She was 18 years old at the time, a good student, pretty, popular, and from a prominent local family.
The coach was very popular as well. Everyone liked him. He was a recent college graduate who was only a few years older than the students he taught and the boys he coached on the football team. The students and the football team viewed him as someone who could have been their older brother.
His relationship with the coed was no secret around the school. In fact, the coach and the coed did not even try to hide their feelings for each other. They would frequently attend parties and other functions together as a couple. In that day and time, we students all thought the relationship was unusual, but no one thought it was inappropriate.
Later that year after the coed graduated, the two of them got married and lived happily together as husband and wife for over 40 years, until the coach unfortunately passed away from an extended illness.
End of story.
Fast forward to today
This happy story is not an isolated event. Many of you who are old enough to be around during that era may be able to remember similar events that happened in your school.
But make no mistake: this story could not have taken place in today’s society. If it did, this fine young coach and future husband of 40 years would have been arrested, taken to jail, prosecuted, and likely sent to the state penitentiary for a very long period of time. Furthermore, the pretty young coed and future wife of the coach would have been deemed a “crime victim,” even though in her eyes nothing could have been further from the truth. The reason why is because in 2003, the Texas legislature enacted a law which made this type of relationship illegal.
Enter Texas Penal Code Article 21.12
Subject to a few rare exceptions, Article 21.12 of the Texas Penal Code makes it a crime for a teacher or any other employee of a public or private primary or secondary school to engage in sexual contact, or have a sexual relationship with, a student enrolled in a primary or secondary school at which the employee works. The law applies broadly to any employee and any student in the same school or district. It also applies to an educator having an improper relationship with a student who is a participant in any activity sponsored by the educator’s school or school district.
Also be aware that this type of relationship is a crime even if the student involved is otherwise over the legal age of consent (17 years in Texas), and if the contact between teacher and student happens entirely off campus.
This offense, called Improper Relationship Between Educator and Student, is a second degree felony, which carries a penalty range of no less than two and no more than 20 years’ incarceration in the Texas Department of Corrections. The person convicted could also receive a fine of up to $10,000.
The clear message the legislature is sending to our teachers, coaches, and other school employees is: Don’t mess around with your students!
The recent trends associated with this legislation demonstrate not only a change in the law, but also a growing shift in the manner in which illicit affairs between teachers and students are viewed broadly by our society. According to published data from the Texas Education Agency from 2018, the number of opened investigations into allegations of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students has increased 42% since the previous year. This number is a 249% increase from a decade ago.
This law was no doubt intended to curb sexual predation by unscrupulous teachers and other school employees on the vulnerable children in our school system. To this end the law is indeed much needed, and is perhaps arguably overdue. Our school system is the last place where we want our children to be exposed to sexual predators. Any adult who seeks employment in our schools for the purpose of finding outlets for their sexual gratification should be punished to the fullest extent allowed by law.
The vast majority of individuals who enter into the teaching profession, however, do so with the most honorable of intentions. Teachers are one of our society’s greatest resource. But the sad reality is that we are all human, and the powerful impulses associated with romance and human sexuality are hard for some people to ignore. Therefore from time to time, a teacher – perhaps especially one who is only a few years older than the students in which they teach – may find themselves tempted to enter into a questionable scenario which our society now deems unlawful. If so, that teacher will most certainly lose their job and may wind up losing their freedom as well.
So what should I do?
No longer will you hear any new stories involving relationships between teachers and students that have happy endings. The Texas legislature has put a decisive end to that possibility. But that does not mean that these relationships will no longer occur, given the nature of who we are as human beings. Nor does it mean that every teacher charged with having an improper relationship is a sexual predator who should face a felony charge followed by a lengthy penitentiary sentence.
If you or someone you care about is being charged with such a crime, it is imperative that you find competent legal representation immediately. You need a legal advocate on your side that will fight for you in the courtroom. Perhaps equally as important, you need an attorney who understands the human complexities of the situation you find yourself in, and is capable of framing a winning story for you when your day in court finally arrives. Remember that juries are human, too, and will do the right thing when presented with a compelling narrative from a competent attorney who understands the nature of the offense alleged.
How can I get more information about this topic?
If you are charged with this or any other type of criminal offense you should contact a competent defense attorney skilled in the practice of criminal law immediately in order to begin work on your defense. The Bigham Law Firm has the attorneys with the experience, expertise, and resources to properly represent you in these difficult types of cases.
If you would like more information about how to protect yourself in any criminal case, please call the Bigham Law Firm at (979) 743-4153 for a free consultation.
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Ken Bigham Jr. has nearly three decades of experience navigating the law to protect his clients from unfair treatment by insurance companies, the government and corporations. He believes that Bigham Law’s purpose is to provide outstanding value to its clients and compassionate service to its community.
Ultimately, my case was dismissed and I received a fair restitution in the lawsuit that followed. It is reassuring to have someone you can trust when required to navigate our unique legal system.