Teachers texting students now an 'epidemic'

LANSING, Mich. (WSYM) - Whether it's Snapchat, Twitter, texting, or whatever your kids are into now, it can be the perfect gateway to inappropriate conversations between students and teachers.

And experts say it's become a national epidemic.

FOX 47's Alani Letang talked with a school administrator and a parent about the problem.

"The biggest single driver that we've seen of the explosion of inappropriate teacher-student relationships is the presence of private secret messaging between teachers and students," former U.S. Chief of Staff, Department of Education Terry Abbott said at a seminar in 2016.

"Yeah, that's just it, these kids are impressionable," said Chuck Houghton.

Houghton is a father of nine, six who are in school. He told FOX 47 that although not all teachers have the same mindset, digital communication could pave the way to racy behavior.

"The teachers are authority figures, the texting goes to the point where parents or other authorities aren't aware of it and they can get into these impressionable kids' heads and take advantage of them," said Houghton.

Abbott calls this preying on the vulnerable.

"I think of these folks who do this kind of thing as classroom predators," said Abbott.

Houghton said trust is important in his home, so for his seventh and ninth graders, phone checks are expected.

"Let them know we are going to look through their texts. We trust our kids quite a bit so we don't do that a lot. A lot of it is we watch their behavior, we look for things that are changing and, if there are things that are changing, we start asking questions," said Houghton.

Currently, there is no law in Michigan that teachers cannot digitally communicate with students.

"Navigating that, those boundaries are tough," said Kyle Guerrant, deputy superintendent of Michigan.

That's why there are apps out there, like Remind, that allow teachers and students to text while keeping their contact information hidden. It's up to each classroom to sign up, and a third party can be included in the communication thread.

"My wife and I can be subscribed so we get the same Remind app for a classroom and we get those texts," said Houghton.

Guerrant said the way digital communication is handled is left up to each school district in Michigan.

"While we don't have many districts that have reached out to us to ask for guidance or support on navigating electronic communication between students and staff, we know it's something schools pay attention to," said Guerrant.

If you suspect or witness any suspicious behavior, you are encouraged to report it to your school, or you can submit a tip anonymously on Okay2Say:

LINK: Okay2SayE