Systems work to combat student-teacher sex

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 31, 2016

The number of sexual relationships among students and teachers seems to be increasing.

The Alabama Department of Education is even tracking the number of investigations they’ve conducted.

As of last week, the number for this year was 10.

From 2014-2015, the state department investigated 100 cases.

Terry Abbott, chairman of Drive West Communications, has been tracking teacher and student relationship cases throughout the nation.

Stats show that the cases have grown from 2011 when there were only 25.

Abbott concluded that teachers were using social media as a tool to help further the inappropriate relationships.

All three local school systems have had an incident of a school official having inappropriate relations with a student.

In 2011, an Andalusia Middle School special education teacher was charged for sexually abusing three students. She pleaded guilty to two counts of sodomy in the second degree and was sentenced to 15 years in prison for each count.

She was to serve three years, with credit for time already served in the county jail, and will have 12 years of supervised probation.

Last year, an Opp High School teacher was indicted for having sexual relations with a student.

Ashley Nelson Hall was indicted for being a school employee engaging in a sex act or deviant sexual intercourse with a student under the age of 19.

In March 2015, a Covington County teacher, Thomas Edwin Gamble, was arrested for school employee having sexual contact with a student under age 19.

To help combat teacher-student relationships, local superintendents said they have training.

“We do an intensive training at the beginning of the school year where we bring in experts in the field to discuss appropriate versus inappropriate relationships, proper social media and communication methods and legal issues,” Covington County Superintendent Shannon Driver said. “Throughout the year, our supervisors and principals discuss in an ongoing way the dos and don’ts in employee-students relationships and provide professional development in this area.”

Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Ted Watson said the system doesn’t have a specific policy in place to monitor social media.

“To become the police of that it’s not something we can speak to,” he said. “We are trying to make do with the manpower we have.”

Watson said his staff is trained at the beginning of the school year as well and will receive more extensive training next week.

“We’ve had to deal with this. Opp has had to deal with it. Covington County has had to deal with it,” he said. “Multiple systems have had to deal with it.”

Watson said there was a change in the law in what constitutes an illegal relationship.

“It is possible for someone who is considered an adult who has a relationship with someone over 16,” he said. “But if it’s a teacher, it’s against the law. I don’t have a comment on my stance on that. There’s a lawsuit challenging that right now.”

Currently a Tuscaloosa County judge is considering a request by the attorney of a former Brookwood High School teacher to declare the state’s law that forbids a school employee from having sex with a student under age 19.

In this particular case, the former teacher, who is 28, is charged with having sex with an 18-year-old female student.

That particular bill was enacted in 2010.

Next week, Watson said the administrative staff will go through a program that is written and designed for dealing with sexual predators, sexual contact and more.

Every teacher in the ACS school system will have gone through at least an hour of training by the end of the session.

“We are covering our bases,” he said. “I tell our teachers and staff that if you have inappropriate relations with a child you will be fired. You will be arrested. You will lose your certification and you will most likely be sued. We take the safety of our students very seriously.”