UNA education students and faculty discuss Alabama’s classroom sex scandals

by Staff Writer Anna Brown

Many teachers in Alabama have been caught practicing hands-on sex education.

Recent statistics on teacher-student relationship are getting students’ attention at UNA, as education is one of the top majors students choose, according to university research.

There are more cases of sexual assault per capita between students and teachers in Alabama than any other state, according to a study conducted by former chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Education Terry Abbot.

Kaylie Pennington, Outreach and Awareness Specialist at Rape Response confirmed the findings.

Twenty-five Alabama school employees were accused or convicted of sexual relationships with students in 2014, according to Abbot’s research.

Junior secondary education major Emily Malone said these statistics have been discussed in her education classes at UNA.

The number of these cases in Alabama tripled during the past four years, Abbot said in his article “More teachers are having sex with their students. Here’s how schools can stop them,” published in The Washington Post Jan. 20.

Any school employee who has sexual intercourse with a student under 19 years old will be convicted of a class B felony, according to Alabama Act 2010-497.

The Counter Pedophilia Investigative Unit reported 15 percent of students nationwide will be sexually abused by a member of the school staff during their school career.

The unit also found no type of school was immune to abuse: public or private, religious or secular, rich or poor, urban or rural.

“It bothers me because we work so hard to have this image as the motivational teacher,” said junior Miranda Wilson, an elementary education major. “I think it definitely hurts teachers’ reputations, not only in Alabama, but also around the nation.”

Malone said professors in the education department at UNA urge students to abide by ethical standards in the classroom.

“On day one that’s one of the things we talk about,” she said.

Dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences Donna Lefort said the education department at UNA understands its moral and ethical obligation to ensure education students understand the nine standards of the Alabama Educator Code of Ethics.

Standard four of the Alabama Educator Code of Ethics states, “an educator should always maintain a professional relationship with all students, both in and outside the classroom.”

The AECE also states, “unethical conduct includes, but is not limited to committing or soliciting any unlawful sexual act.”

Disciplinary actions for school employees who engage in inappropriate sexual behavior with students range from a verbal warning from the school administrator to the suspension of their professional educator certificate in addition to any legal actions that are warranted, Lefort said.

“There is no place in professional education for individuals who breach the trust of those they are hired to serve,” Lefort said. “We must continue to advocate for children and report any suspected breach of ethical standards.”

Abbot said he blames social media and text messaging for the increase of sexual abuse cases in recent years.

“While social media can be an important tool for learning, reasonable restrictions must be put in place to protect children,” Abbot said.

He said 36 percent of those accused or convicted of an inappropriate relationship with a student reported to have used social media to start or continue those relationships.

Some states have put restrictions on teachers’ interactions with students because of this issue. The New Jersey School Board does not allow teachers to “friend” students on social media unless they has written approval from the school principal, as reported by The Washington Post.

Malone said her education professors encourage education students to maintain professional relationships with their future students, including not being friends with them on Facebook.

“My teachers have stressed to us that they don’t want us to be those teachers in the newspaper for these sexual abuse cases,” said junior math education major Victoria Davis. “They want us to represent the school and education well.”