By Victor Skinner
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Misconduct complaints against Ohio teachers have gone through the roof in the last few years, and experts are pointing to social media and improved reporting as the reasons.
Ohio education records show general misconduct complaints against educators skyrocketed from 250 in 2007 to 754 in 2011, while sexual misconduct complaints have bucked the national trend and declined since 2008, the Associated Press reports.
Experts told the AP they believe the increasing popularity of social media and other electronic communications may be driving the increase in misconduct complaints by providing teachers more access to students outside of the classroom, the AP reports.
“Because of social media we find that students will text their teachers and send them emails,” said John Holbrook, assistant academic director and secondary education field placement coordinator for the University of Cincinnati. “They don’t often think this might not be an appropriate way to communicate with a student.”
EAGnews contacted a number of experts and came to the same conclusion about the influence of social media and other instant communications in schools.
But our research shows that in many states reports of educator sexual abuse of students is also on the rise.
Vicki Chamberlain, executive director of Oregon’s Teachers Standards and Practices Commission, told a television station last year “there’s no question it’s bigger in terms of the number of our reports” of educator sexual misconduct.
Another recent media report showed the Texas Education Agency investigated 156 allegations of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students in 2011-12, which was about 70 more than in 2007-08.
There are number of factors that perpetuate sexual misconduct between educators and students, including union influences, social media, weak school administration, and secret deals that allow accused educators to essentially transfer districts to avoid criminal charges, our research showed.
EAGnews plans to release the first of a four-story series – “Sextracurricular Activities” – on Monday. The other three installments will be published Tuesday through Thursday.
If Ohio has actually managed to reduce the prevalence of educator sexual misconduct, education leaders should explore how and why, so other states can replicate their success.
But we suspect that social media and new communication technology likely are increasing the number of inappropriate sexual relationships between teachers and students in Ohio – along with other complaints – and the figures simply don’t reflect reality.
Experts generally agree that the number of students who come forward with sexual allegations against their teachers represent only a fraction of the students who have actually suffered abuse.
The resources available for abused students to reach out for help, the way complaints are classified, how local school districts handle allegations and numerous other elements can influence whether sexual abuse complaints are reported properly.