Inappropriate Teacher-Student Communication Online

Reports of teachers having inappropriate relationships with students seem to appear on the news with alarming frequency. The increase in teacher-student relationships may partly be explained by the expanding use of new technology, such as text messaging, email, or social media sites like Facebook.

While these forms of communication may certainly make teaching easier or more appealing to students, they also present a problem for teachers and students alike when discussions veer from classroom topics. Online communications can quickly turn into the basis for allegations of sexual misconduct when a teacher and student become romantically involved.

Guidance For Texas Teachers and Online Communications

In late 2010, the Texas Education Agency (TEA, the state agency which governs Texas’ public schools) approved new policy guidelines for use of online media by teachers. The policy calls for teachers to “refrain from inappropriate communication” with students and other minors via electronic communication. This policy does not outlaw any particular mode of communication but prohibits inappropriate communications by:

  • Cell phone
  • Text messages
  • Email
  • Instant messages
  • Blogs

The ethics directive includes all forms of social media, even if not part of the list above.

The Code of Ethics provision also provides some guidance for teachers as to what’s now considered inappropriate communication. Some factors listed by the TEA include:

  • The frequency of communication
  • The subject matter of the communication, including whether sexually explicit language was used
  • Whether the communication was done secretly or was otherwise concealed
  • Whether the communication appeared to solicit sexual contact or a romantic relationship

The ethics policy is not intended to limit teachers’ use of social media, like Facebook or Twitter, as an addition to classroom discussion. Many teachers report that some of their students, uncomfortable with in-class discussion, are much more willing to share their questions or thoughts online.

Teachers must be careful, however, about what they are communicating to students via social media. What may seem like a joke or a harmless statement can be misconstrued and turned into a professional nightmare. A criminal defense attorney in your area can help you fight false allegations of sexual misconduct if online communications with a minor student have gotten you into trouble.