HOUSTON – It’s one of the greatest betrayals of trust a parent can face; but, the KHOU 11 News I-Team found the number of cases of inappropriate relationships involving Texas teachers is growing.
Figures from the state agency that licenses teachers in Texas shows the Texas Education Agency opened 86 investigations into inappropriate teacher-student relationships during the 2007-2008 school year.
By the 2011-2012 school year, the number of investigations nearly doubled to 156 cases.
Gene Acuna, director of communications for TEA, admits most parents have no idea how common the problem really is.
“This has always been an issue in Texas schools,” explained Acuna. “Maybe not to this extent, but it was not an issue that school districts liked to talk about or would report themselves on.”
In Harris County, the number of inappropriate relationship with a student cases prosecuted has remained steady each of the last four years.
The total number of cases in Harris County during that period was 33.
But, the founder of the child advocacy group, Justice for Children, believes that number may only be the tip of the iceberg.
“It's probably ten times greater than that,” said Randy Burton of Justice for Children.
He believes most students stay quiet when victimized by a teacher.
“You know, they're gods,” Burton said of teachers. “They're the people that control your grades, your destiny, your future. They can make you look silly in front of your classmates or make you look great.”
So what’s behind the rise in the number of cases?
Experts say the answer may lie in text messaging and social media, which are both easily accessible to middle and high schoolers.
It is technology that some believe can break down many of the barriers that used to stand between students and teachers.
“In its best sense, that allows teachers to provide homework assignments, keep track of projects, bring classes together,” said Acuna. “But it also allows them, on the darker side, opportunities to communicate with students where the parent may or may not know about it.”
Hidden, often harmful overtures happening more than schools and parents want to believe.
“How can you ever look at an adult the same way if you've been abused by a teacher?” asked Burton.
Experts say the best way to keep your child from getting involved in an inappropriate relationship is to monitor who your teen is talking to and texting, as well as keeping an eye on their use of social media.
Last fall, the Houston Independent School District adopted policies directly related to the use of social media by teachers. While they are allowed to communicate with students, it must be work-related.
Violations of the policy could cost teachers their jobs.