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Everything's bigger in Texas. But that doesn't mean it's better. The Lone Star state is hitting some big numbers in a very bad category.
The Texas Education Agency revealed it has launched a whopping 162 investigations into alleged inappropriate teacher-student relationships between September 1 and May 31. The agency had a total of 188 investigations all of last year, the most in the nation, and the number of incidents has been rising for five straight years. So what's going on down in the former Republic of Texas, and what can state officials do about it?
Not Just Inappropriate -- Illegal
The age of consent in Texas is 17, and many of the reported incidents involve students as young as 13. Texas law also criminalizes improper relationships between teachers and students:
An employee of a public or private primary or secondary school commits an offense if the employee:
(1) engages in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with a person who is enrolled in a public or private primary or secondary school at which the employee works.
Having a sexual relationship with a student is a second degree felony in Texas and could mean up to 20 years in prison.
Despite this prohibition, teachers are having illicit sexual relationships with students at a record-setting pace. And some are blaming social media. Kathy Tortoreo, director of crisis services at Family Support Services in Amarillo, Texas told the Amarillo Globe-News, "In the past, you might not have had students choosing to interact socially with a teacher. Now they'll friend them on Facebook or they'll reach out to them on Snapchat."
Whatever the cause, education groups and legislators are feverishly searching for the cure. The Texas Teachers Classroom Association and Texas division of the United Educators Association already provide extensive materials to teachers on improper relationships with students, but those warnings, the statute, and the 78 former teachers sitting in Texas prisons on charges of improper sexual relationships clearly aren't enough of a deterrent.
Texas Education Agency spokesperson Lauren Callahan told Fox 4 News the agency will meet with state legislators in the next session to discuss new student teacher communication rules. "We want to make sure they're appropriately sanctioned," Callahan said. "And if they need to come out of the classroom forever, then certainly we want to make sure that happens as quickly as possible."