Incidences of Texas teachers accused of improper relationships with students continue to stream into the 2015-16 school year. An autumnal cluster full of allegations of sexual acts or “sexting,” sending explicit sexual text messages or images, with under-aged minors have been reported.
Waco police arrested Michael George Benns, 35, a former full-time paraprofessional teacher’s assistant at the Midway Independent School District (ISD) Alternative Education Center. Benns was charged Wednesday with having an improper relationship between an educator and student plus sexual assault of a female minor. In March, Benns was fired after the district learned of the February police investigation into his conduct. Waco Police Sergeant Patrick Swanton told the Waco Tribune that the alleged sexual encounter occurred in January between Benns and the victim, a girl under the age of 17, in a downtown parking lot. The victim’s mother reported the incident to police.
“As far as they know at this point, it was a single encounter not on school property,” Swanton said. A forensic interview performed at the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children proved instrumental to the case, said the sergeant. Benns remains in the McLennnan County Jail in lieu of a $50,000 bond since his arrest Nov. 4 arrest.
Midway ISD Superintendent George Kazanas emailed parents Wednesday afternoon about the situation. “Benns came with strong references from youth organizations in the community,” he wrote. However, he noted that Benns “came to us already with a prior connection to a young lady who now is no longer a student at Midway High School. Due to this prior connection, an inappropriate relationship occurred outside of school hours and off-campus. We will continue to work closely with law enforcement officials to maintain a safe and healthy learning environment for our students.”
On Tuesday, in the Houston area, police arrested Deer Park ISD substitute teacher Blake Saucillo, charging him with allegedly sexting explicit images to a female high school sophomore. According to the Houston Chronicle, Deer Park police investigated a June 1 South Campus High School report of an inappropriate teacher-student relationship. Officers determined Saucillo sent explicit videos, photos, and text messages back and forth with a student over a period of several days, although there was no evidence that the sexual misconduct happened at the school. The substitute made bail set at $30,000 following his arrest and was released for a Wednesday Harris County court appearance.
In late October, a similar case occurred in the Austin area. Eanes ISD officials notified Child Protective Services and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office of an investigation into a female high school math teacher for inappropriate communications with a male student over social media and texting. She taught at Westlake High School and the district said her background checks cleared when she was hired.
This week, just outside of San Antonio, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office charged Mark LeGault, 35, with an improper relationship between and educator and student. sheriff’s office spokesman James Keith said the Wagner High School band director accused of sexual misconduct was in a relationship with a 17-year-old female student since August but police did not disclose if the victim was one of his band students. Keith told KENS-5 the girl’s parents first contacted the sheriff’s office about the inappropriate relationship on Monday.
The sexual misconduct began after the teenaged girl broke up with her longtime boyfriend. She told deputies LeGault offered her comfort and said, “Let’s hang out. I can make things better for you.” The teen felt pressured to stay in the relationship with LeGault, telling police LeGault threatened to commit suicide.
The suspect had suicidal tendencies. Keith said LeGault showed up with bleeding arms for a meeting with district officials after being placed on administrative leave. First responders rushed LeGault to the hospital.
Since his Tuesday arrest, high school parent Quawanna Peoples told KENS-5 that she was relieved LeGault no longer taught at the school but she emphasized: “It’s shock and disappointment because we look at these educators to look after our children.”
The Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA) reminds education professionals they are “perceived role models in the community” in their 2015-16 Survival Guide, defining improper sexual relationships for teachers and the criminal consequences of these actions. It lists what constitutes real and perceived solicitations of a romantic relationship, warning teachers to “take care to avoid situations in which professional boundaries become poorly defined.”
The 2014-15 school year marked the 7th consecutive year Texas teacher-student improper relationship cases increased, upping from 179 cases opened by the Texas Education Agency to 188.” Previously, expert Terry Abbott blamed the rise of sexual misconduct on social media and secret electronic messaging which he said “created an open gateway for inappropriate behavior,” including developing “improper relationships with students out of sight of parents and principals.” He underscored that the wave of educator sexual deviance in the classroom extends beyond Texas, calling it “epidemic” nationwide.
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