Improper Student-Educator Relationships in Texas
In Texas, educators at public and private schools are granted a great deal of trust and respect. These are the people that are charged with the education of the next generation. As such, they are expected to behave in a way that creates a healthy, safe learning environment for their students.
An improper relationship between a teacher and his or her student is a strict violation of this expectation. It is also a criminal act with the potential for severe legal punishments. Any teacher who engages in sexual conduct with one of their students may be arrested and charged.
Details of the Law
According to Chapter 21.12 of the Texas Penal Code, it is a criminal offense for a teacher at any public or private primary or secondary school to:
- Engage in sexual contact with a student enrolled at their school
- Engage in sexual contact with a student enrolled in their school district
- Engage in sexual contact with a student at an educational activity sponsored by the school
Note that this law applies regardless of the age of the student. Even if the student is 18 and is a legal adult, it is still against the law for a student and teacher to have sexual contact. This still applies even if both parties give full consent for the activity. However, additional criminal charges could apply if the student is a minor and the educator is an adult.
Occasionally, stories will appear in the media regarding educators at Texas schools who have been caught having inappropriate relationships with their students. These stories are a good example of the serious nature of these offenses.
For example, in May of 2016, a 28-year-old teacher at Llano High School in Llano, Texas was arrested and charged with two counts of improper relationship between educator and student. The teacher quickly resigned after being arrested and posted $50,000 bond to be released from custody. The school district notified parents of the incident shortly afterward.
An investigation by the Texas Rangers uncovered that the teacher allegedly had sex with a student between December 2015 and January 2016. If convicted, the teacher could face up to 20 years in state prison.
Under Texas law, a person who is found guilty of an improper relationship between educator and student could be convicted of a second degree felony. This is punishable by:
- Two to 20 years in state prison
- A fine of $10,000
- Possible mandatory registration as a sex offender
These charges could be compounded with additional charges regarding sexual intercourse with a minor. Also, if an educator uses text messages or emails to initiate sexual contact with a student, they may be charged with enticement of a child. If the teacher and student exchange explicit images, the teacher could also be charged with providing obscene materials to a minor or possessing child pornography.
Defenses to Prosecution
According to the Texas Penal Code, there are two defenses to prosecution that may be grounds for the dismissal of improper relationship charges. If the defense can prove that one of these conditions has been met, the court may agree to drop the charges against the defendant.
The first defense to prosecution may be used if the educator and the student are legally married. That is, if both parties are spouses under the law, then it is not illegal for them to engage in sexual conduct.
The second defense to prosecution may be used if the educator is not more than three years older than the student and if they had been in a relationship before the educator began working at the school.
These laws are meant to prevent predatory behavior by educators against students in schools. Therefore, these defenses to prosecution may be used by people who are in a legitimate relationship while also taking on the roles of educator and student.
Additional defenses may be used by a defense attorney. For example, the attorney may argue that there is insufficient proof of sexual conduct for a conviction. If this is successful, the charges may be dropped or a plea deal may be offered to the defendant.
The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp is a criminal law firm with a practice devoted to the defense of criminal charges including felonies and misdemeanors of all stature. The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp specializes in representing clients faced with such offenses as DWI – Driving While Intoxicated, theft crimes, assault, murder, sex crimes and more. The firm also helps in the sealing of criminal records including expungement and petitions for non-disclosure throughout Texas.