Hawkins BOE aims to crack down on inappropriate teacher/student communications

Jeff Bobo • May 3, 2013 at 11:19 AM

CHURCH HILL — Technology such as texting and Facebook makes it easier for teachers and students to communicate with each other for all the right reasons: passing on homework assignments, announcing practice and game cancellations and other school business.

On April 15, however, the Hawkins County Board of Education will be discussing ideas for eliminating the possibility that teachers and students can use texting, Facebook and other modes of communication for all the wrong reasons.

Nearly every school system in the Tri-Cities region, and many more across the state and nation, has had to deal with accusations of inappropriate texting or messaging — and in some cases, inappropriate relationships — between teachers and students.

No matter how many teachers are publicly disgraced, others continue to become involved in these type allegations.

In February, a former Sullivan Central athletic director pleaded guilty to statutory rape for having a sexual relationship in 2012 with a 17-year-old student.

Earlier this month, a Lee High assistant girls soccer coach was indicted on three felony counts of taking indecent liberties with a minor while in a supervisory relationship with that child and a single misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

And on March 26, the mother of a 17-year-old Hawkins County student claimed she discovered sexually suggestive messages that had been sent to her daughter by a teacher via Facebook between March 23-26.

The mother said some of those alleged messages, which were later apparently deleted, had arrived after 1 a.m.

The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office said it doesn’t have enough evidence to file criminal charges, although the girl’s phone has been sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime lab to determine if any alleged messages can be retrieved.

Hawkins County Board of Education member Chris Christian told the Times-News on Wednesday this issue has been added to the agenda of the April 15 workshop.

The discussion will center around ideas for preventing future allegations of this nature.

Christian said he has no knowledge of whether the current Hawkins County allegations are true, but he believes a proactive “zero-tolerance” approach must be taken to prevent future allegations.

“We’re not going to tolerate this type of behavior from any employee in the Hawkins County School System,” Christian said. “We’re going to look for ways to help (Director of Schools) Charlotte Britton and the Central Office to better police this and put in better policies and procedures for more effective management if this type of allegation were to ever happen again.”

Christian said one idea the BOE may discuss is placing restrictions on the type of after-school-hours communications that will be allowed between teachers and students.

Within Hawkins County’s close-knit communities, many teachers are neighbors, family friends or go to church with students and their families. Christian noted that it’s not realistic to suggest that all non-school related communication can be banned between teachers and students.

Common sense should dictate what type of communications are OK and what type are inappropriate, he added. The trick will be wording that into a policy.

“Any adult teacher texting or messaging a student after 1 a.m. is wrong,” he said. “If a teacher is in the hallway between classes surrounded by a lot of students around and says, ‘You look nice today’ — I don’t see anything wrong with that. It’s not flirtatious, it’s a compliment to a student.

“But you make that same statement to a student at 1 a.m. on Facebook or texting and I have a problem with that.”

The April 15 BOE meeting was originally scheduled as a budget workshop and will begin at 5:30 p.m.

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