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Texting, Social Media, and the Teacher Student Relationship

OKABE & HAUSHALTER Mar 1, 2019 Criminal Defense

Earlier this month, NBC Bay Area News reported that many inappropriate student-teacher relationships began over text messaging and social media. This is not entirely surprising to San Francisco criminal defense attorneys who know that the line between appropriate and inappropriate communications is rather blurry, especially when school districts do not create policies for teacher/student communication outside of school.

Problems with not having a communications policy

Teachers are teachers because they want to help students learn and succeed which is why when they receive a Facebook message or text message from a student asking about an assignment over the weekend, they want to respond and help the student. When a school district does not put a communication policy in place for teachers and students, teachers do not have any real guidelines as to the type of communication that would be supported and viewed positively by school officials. When a communications policy is in place, teachers feel protected because they then have an authority that tells them right from wrong when it comes to outside of school communications.

Communication questions teachers may have

  • Teachers are not on call and are typically not required to check their messages after contract hours, so when a student sends them a text at 6:30 p.m. and the teacher does not see it until 9:30 p.m., is that an appropriate time to respond? If the student tells his or her parents that the teacher just texted at 9:30 p.m., does that raise a red flag or cause concerns for parents because a teacher is communicating with their child so late?
  • Teachers may wonder if it would be appropriate to respond to personal questions from students. Is asking a teacher during class if he or she has a spouse different than asking the teacher over text message? What if it is a casual question thrown in a thread of text exchanges about a class assignment?
  • What if a student sends an inappropriate message? What action should the teacher take? Teachers are compassionate and they know that their students are young and that they make mistakes. They may not want to report students so that students do not get in trouble. But is deleting an inappropriate text message or telling the student not to do that anymore being complicit in their inappropriate behavior?

False allegations

Teachers are in a unique and undesirable situation when it comes to communicating with students outside of the classroom. They want to help their students, but they also know that false allegations and suspicions may arise when it comes to private messaging due to the following:

  • Misinterpreted messages – Hasn’t everyone sent an email or text message that was misinterpreted by the receiver? It happens, but it can be dangerous when it happens with students.
  • Students reading too much into a message – Students may read something inappropriate into a text message that was not actually intended in the first place.
  • Fabricated photos and evidence – Photos and messages can easily be edited to look like something completely different than their original form.
  • Unsubstantiated allegations – Just because it is alleged, does not mean it is true, especially when there is no evidence to support those allegations.

If you have been accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student or any other type of crime, contact a San Francisco criminal defense attorney with Okabe & Haushalter to discuss any claims or potential claims against you and your defense options.