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Students And Teachers: How Far Is Too Far?

So far this year, police have arrested 11 teachers or school personnel for sexual offenses with students within the Clark County School District. 

The district has said they are committed to enacting policies aimed to stop this misconduct, but it keeps happening.

Associate Superintendent Tammy Malich told KNPR's State of Nevada that despite the headlines it is an uncommon thing. She pointed out that of the 30,000 faculty and staff in the district the majority interact with students in an appropriate way, but the news conference they held about the issue last month was a way to show the community that they are taking the issue very seriously. 

She also said that the school district currently does not have guidelines for how students and teachers are to connect with each other over text or through social media, but a working group has been established to write a comprehensive sexual misconduct policy that would also establish guidelines around social media. She said smartphones and social media are great ways for students and teachers to connect but it has to be balanced.

"It is a very useful tool especially for our secondary students, who are involved in activities and athletics. It's a quick and efficient way to communicate with a group of students," she said. "We have to balance that with appropriate use and how do we protect kids against inappropriate use but not shut it down completely." 

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The district is looking to other school districts to see how they shaped similar policy. Some of the changes could be having teachers have separate accounts or communication between students that is logged, restricting some use to only former students, and informing parents of how teachers are contacting students. 

Ironically enough, it is often those conversations that the teacher and the student might have thought were private texts, emails or social media messages that lead to the relationships being discovered, according to Malich. 

But the inappropriate relationships start long before those texts are discovered, said Charol Shakeshaft, a professor of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies student-teacher relationships.

She said while these types of cases seem to be happening more often it is more likely that the abuse is being reported more often. She also said there is not one type of student that is victimized, but there are commonalities between predators.

She said when it comes to predators who target elementary school students they are often the most popular teachers and may be recognized as an outstanding teacher. Shakeshaft was quick to clarify that that doesn't mean all great teachers are predators, just that predators will work to gain the trust of students and parents.

"Predators who target elementary school kids focus on them and try to win their trust and try to win the parents' trust and try to win the trust of the school districts and their colleagues and therefore, they tend to be really outstanding in terms participation," she said. 

For teachers who target older students, they're more likely to boundary crossers and who feel rules don't apply to them. They are also more likely to be emotionally delayed and are reliving their middle school or high school years, Shakeshaft said.

She said once a connection is made the predator will start to "groom" the student by giving them gifts, sending texts and emails, and writing notes. 

"It is sort of a typical high school romance behavior, making the student feel special," she said, 

Shakeshaft said the abusers are often faculty known to be meeting with students at odd times or off hours, like a coach or a tutor. That way it is not unusual for a teacher and a student to be seen together alone at a strange hour. However, she also said that is where training comes in for teachers and faculty.

Shakeshaft pointed out the training about sexual misconduct with students is not for the predators who are going to try to contact students anyway. It is really for the other teachers to learn the red flags that indicate something is wrong. 

"The training is primarily effective because it trains those teachers who would never sexually abuse and they see things, but what we know now is they don't really understand exactly what they're seeing," she said. "Nobody has made it clear to them when they see this kind of behavior they need to report."

After training, she said, teachers will know to report behavior like a teacher and a student repeatedly being behind closed doors before or after school. 

 

Guests

Tammy Malich, associate superintendent, Clark County School District; Charol Shakeshaft, professor of educational leadership, Virginia Commonwealth University 

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