Houston Criminal Defense Blog

Improper Student Relationships: How It’s Defined and How It’s Prosecuted

empty classroom with student desks

Improper Student Relationships in Texas

There have been several high-profile cases in the media lately involving allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct between teachers and students. These cases usually unfold after a student reveals the relationship to a friend or parent. In some cases, the teacher may be caught exchanging explicit emails or text messages with one or more students.

No matter how it is discovered, these kinds of actions can lead to serious charges for the educator. Texas law has specific statutes detailing the kinds of behavior that are prohibited between educators and students. The laws also contain information about the harsh punishments that can be applied in these cases.

What Is An Improper Student/Educator Relationship?

The law in Texas states that teachers, educators and school employees are not allowed to engage in any type of sexual behavior with a person who is enrolled as a student where that teacher works. Of course, it is also illegal for an adult to engage in sexual activity with a minor regardless of a teacher/student relationship, but additional charges can be pressed if such a teacher/student relationship exists.

According to Section 21.12 of the Texas Penal Code, an employee of a public or private school commits an offense if:

  • The employee engages in sexual intercourse with a person who is enrolled at the school where the employee works
  • The employee engages in sexual activity with a person who is enrolled in the same school district where the employee works
  • The employee engages in sex with a person that he or she knows is a participant in a school-sponsored educational activity and he or she provides educational services to the participants

Any of these actions can lead to serious criminal charges with a potential for a tough sentence.

How Is It Prosecuted?

In many cases, charges of an improper student relationship are filed after a claim is made, usually by a student or parent. In fact, many school districts mandate that all claims of sexual misconduct against faculty members must be followed up by a thorough investigation.

This investigation could involve actions taken by the school as well as actions taken by local law enforcement. If a student reports to a parent, a friend or another faculty member that sexual misconduct has taken place, the accused teacher may be immediately suspended while the investigation continues.

In most investigations, the accused school employee will be interviewed and their school office may be searched. Their computer and cellphone may be seized to be studied. In some cases, their home may be searched.

If any evidence of the alleged misconduct is found, formal charges may be filed and the school employee may be arrested and charged.

The Criminal Penalties

Section 21.12 of the Texas Penal Code classifies an improper relationship between an educator and a student as a felony of the second degree. This is a very serious charge that could lead to extensive punishments if a conviction is reached. For example, a conviction on this charge could lead to:

  • A permanent second degree felony charge on a criminal record
  • Incarceration in state prison for a term of two to 20 years
  • A fine of up to $10,000

Depending on the facts of the case, a person convicted on this charge may also be forced to register as a sex offender. If the student involved in the case is less than 17 years of age, the charge could be enhanced to a first degree felony.

Legal Defenses

Texas law states that there are legitimate legal defenses to this charge. For example, if:

  • The student and the educator are legally married
  • The educator is not more than three years older than the student and their relationship began before the educator began working at the school

However, if these conditions are not met, the defendant should consult with a defense attorney to explore defense options. For example, the defense attorney could argue that there is no physical evidence of any wrongdoing and that the accuser had motivation to get the defendant into trouble. If the defense attorney can make a compelling argument with strong evidence, the charges may be dropped or reduced to a less serious charge.

Are you or someone you know being investigated regarding an inappropriate relationship with a student? Call the Law Offices of Billy Skinner at 713-600-7777 for the tough, experienced defense you need.
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