A teacher’s contract was proposed for termination based on alleged inappropriate communications with a student. The teacher requested a hearing regarding the proposed termination of his contract.
At the hearing, the evidence revealed that the district received a report that the teacher engaged in a sexual relationship with a student in 2016. The district determined that the relationship had begun after the student graduated. However, during the course of its investigation, the district uncovered a series of electronic messages exchanged between the teacher and the student during the 2014-2015 school year that it believed were inappropriate.
One such message from the student stated “I said I wasn’t going to harm myself anymore. I kept that promise to you. I haven’t!” However, the teacher did not notify any representative from the district that the student had expressed a desire to harm herself.
Other messages contained expressions of endearment such as “baby” and “love you.” The teacher admitted that other similar messages had been exchanged between himself and the student and further admitted that they had no educational purpose. He further admitted during the hearing that his relationship with the student went beyond the boundaries of an appropriate professional educator-student relationship while she was still a student at the district.
The independent hearing examiner found that good cause existed to terminate the teacher’s contract. In doing so, the court noted that the teacher “does not appear to understand, appreciate or respect the necessary boundaries that must exist in order for the teacher/student relationship to remain professional.”
The district was not proposing to terminate the teacher’s contract because he had sex with an adult former student. However, it was possible that the communications between them that contained terms of endearment and expressions of affection could have been interpreted by the student as an indication of romantic interest.
The district’s policies concerning electronic communications between teachers and students are designed to keep the relationship between a teacher and student professional and should be followed. In this case, although the messages were not sexual or romantic in nature, the hearing officer said the communications served no educational purpose and violated district standards for professional conduct. The teacher could therefore be terminated on that basis.