Student-teacher relationships can be a healthy educational alliance. But when they exceed certain boundaries and are deemed “improper,” they can be a legal minefield leading to felony charges, jail time and high fines — not to mention loss of a job.
According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), more Texas teachers are being accused, and often charged, with offenses after they allegedly engaged in improper student-teacher relationships, or what Texas law calls an “improper relationship between educator and student.”
But the charge can be even worse than that.
Take the case of Raymon Williams, a 46-year-old former Houston Independent School District (HISD) teacher.
Williams has been charged with indecency with a child, which is a felony. Williams was placed in jail and held under a bond of $100,000, which was set on Feb. 15, 2020. Prosecutors sought such a high bond on the grounds that Williams posed a risk to the community.
Although Williams wasn’t charged until February 2020, the charge was based on an incident more than a year earlier, in January 2019, when several fourth-grade girls at Kashmere Gardens Elementary School in northwest Houston informed their principal and Houston ISD police officers that their teacher had “touched them and made them feel uncomfortable,” according to court documents reported by the Houston Chronicle.
The reports indicated that Williams had allegedly touched 1 student, then 9-years-old, on her inner thigh and shoulder more than once and had rubbed her between her legs at least once. She said Williams would then turn around and rub over his crotch area.
The student reported to the principal that she’d seen Williams touch her friends in the same way.
After a visit by HISD police officers, 3 other students were included in the initial police report, although those students’ parents declined to have their children interviewed or pursue charges.
An HISD spokesperson told ABC-13 KTRK that Williams was reassigned within the district following the report and then was “separated” from the district in June 2019.
The judge in Williams’ case ordered a protective bond, which prohibits him from communicating with an alleged victim or with anyone in her family.
Students’ age matters in charges against teachers
Texas Penal Code Chapter 21 covering sexual offenses holds that it is illegal for an employee of a public or private primary or secondary school to engage in sexual contact or sexual intercourse with any student, regardless of the student’s age. Such employees can include administrators and other support staff, as well as teachers.
However, the age of the students in Williams’ case is an important legal distinction.
The crime is worse if students are younger than the legal age of consent in Texas, which is 17. Indeed, when students younger than 17 are involved, a teacher can be charged not only with an improper student-teacher relationship but also can face such charges as indecency with a child and sexual assault of a minor.
Also, thanks to a recent revision, the law also applies if a teacher has sexual contact with a student from a different school that is in the same district.
According to the Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA):
“A school district must complete an investigation into allegations of educator misconduct, even if the educator resigns from the school district. School districts must notify the parent or guardian of a student with whom an educator allegedly engaged in an improper relationship, regardless of whether the educator resigned or was terminated.”
Severe punishments under Texas law
All improper student-teacher relationship offenses are felony crimes with severe punishments under Texas law. Specifically, this offense is a second-degree felony with punishment of 2 to 20 years in prison, a fine of as much as $10,000, and the loss of a teaching license. Some teachers must also register as a sex offender.
Indecency with a child, by contact or by exposure, can range from a third-degree felony with a maximum 10-year prison sentence, to a second-degree felony with a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
Sexual assault of a child is an extremely serious child sex offense, covering sexual penetration of a child 14 to 16 years old. That is a second-degree felony, punishable by prison time of 2 to 20 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Keep in mind that, under Texas law, it doesn’t matter if you believed a victim was 17 or older, even if the minor lied to you. It’s still a crime.
A child under 17 cannot legally give consent. So even if consent was implied, the crime is considered statutory rape.
Even worse is when a child was under 14 years old. Then, the crime is aggravated sexual assault of a child. This offense is a first-degree felony, which can bring punishments of up to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Possible defenses against teacher-student sex charges
Not all teachers who are accused of improper relationships with students are guilty of the crime. Many may need a skilled and experienced sex crime defense lawyer to prepare legal defenses against such a charge.
If you need a defense attorney for Houston, Harris County, Fort Bend County or Montgomery County, contact the Neal Davis Law Firm immediately. We will quickly provide you with a confidential legal review of your case regarding an improper student-teacher relationship. Then, you can decide how you want to proceed.