Therapists Weigh in on Inappropriate Student-Teacher Relationships at Permian High School

Therapists Weigh in on Inappropriate Student-Teacher Relationships at Permian High School

by Zora Asberry

NewsWest 9

ODESSA - In the past three years, the Ector County School District has seen a rash of teachers being accused of having a sexual relationship with students.

Even though district officials say they do background checks and ethics training, the cases still continue to happen. The latest arrest came in just this week on Wednesday.

Since 2013, five educators from Permian High School have been arrested for being sexual relationships with their students. In April of 2013, two Permian High educators resigned. Kathryn Maples and April Collins resigned after being accused of having improper relationships with male students.

A year later in April of 2014, Alisha Knighten, a former Assistant Softball Coach at Permian, resigned after allegedly having sex with an 18 year old female student. All three educators have not yet gone to trial.

Mark Lampman, a former government teacher at Permian High, was accused of having an improper relationship with a female student but committed suicide just a day after the investigation began. He was never convicted.

The latest incident was revealed on April 1, 2015, involving Social Studies Teacher, Jay Burns, who was involved in an online sexual relationship with two female students over a website called fetlife.com.

But it doesn't just happen here in the Permian Basin, it is a problem in school districts nationwide and has become even more prevalent with the rise in social media.

Ector County Superintendent, Tom Crowe, said, "I wish I had the answer to why this continues to happen at one school."

Marc Orner, a Family Therapist for Abilene Professional Center, explained why these student-teacher relationships happen so often.

"When you have that connection that you feel that this teacher is making a singular connection with you, it enhances and strengthens that type of connection and maybe in other parts of your life you don't have that singular connection," said Orner.

Denise Malm, Executive Director for Harmony Home in Odessa, says that children of all ages need to be more educated of how to deal with sexual assault and inappropriate relationships before they happen.

"We as parents, we as leaders, we as teachers, understand the importance of instilling in our children a sense of worth, a sense of right and wrong and a sense of what is appropriate and not appropriate," said Malm. 

Experts and officials say with the rise in social media has made it much easier for teachers to get involved with students. The reason is that it has become more difficult to know whether a person is acting as adult 18 years or older, when in reality they are a minor. 

It also makes it easier to do get involved in romantic relationships with minors because you can be anonymous.

Mike Atkins, Public Information Officer for ECISD, says that social media is definitely an aspect the district focuses on heavily, stating, "The ethics training touches on social media because if you look around the country, when you see these stories,  most of the time they involve social media, most of the time they began with social media."

"It's really, really hard with social media to be absolutely certain of who you're talking to and absolutely certain that they are who they say they are," said Malm. 

Ector County ISD is working on revamping the ethics training so that there is more focus on the role social media plays in student-teacher relationships to help prevent these situations from happening in the future.