The National Education Association’s motto is “Great Public Schools For Every Student.”
But the NEA’s role is also to side with teachers and other school employees, particularly on the issue of false accusations of inappropriate behavior with students as a crisis.
In an article titled “Teach But Don’t Touch,” the NEA wrote:
“It’s the worst thing that can happen to a school employee: being falsely accused of inappropriate behavior with students. Even if you’re ultimately exonerated, the damage has already been done, and the stigma can linger for years.”
The NEA cites the book Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Teachers and Accusations of Abuse by Matthew D. Olson as showing how such false allegations can ruin careers. The book was co-written by Gregory Lawler, an attorney with the Colorado Education Association who litigated 13 such cases.
In the book, Lawler describes how legislators, the media and the public have contributed to the growing phenomenon of teachers being falsely accused of abuse against students.
“Whenever there is an allegation, there is a victim, whether it is the accused or the accuser,” he says. “Students these days know all too well the consequences of an abuse complaint, and they know how to game the system. They know how to get an unpopular teacher fired by making false allegations, and unfortunately, some of them try to do just that.”
How to avoid false accusations (tips for teachers)
NEA offers advice for teachers and other school employees for avoiding such false accusations.
- Never be alone with a student. NEA cites “risky situations” such as one-on-one tutoring, counseling, after-school or recess detention and make-up tests. “If you can’t avoid being alone with a student at school, keep the door open and stay in plain sight,” says NEA.
- Maintain a professional demeanor and distance. This means no flirting, teasing or joking about sex. Also, according to NEA, “Never send emails, text messages or cards to students unrelated to schoolwork.” Teachers are also advised not to “hire students to babysit or allow them to visit your home. Be the adult and maintain boundaries.”
- Avoid physical contact with students. As a general rule, “it’s best to avoid most forms of physical contact.” NEA says male teachers must be especially careful, adding, “While a female teacher’s touch may be perceived as comforting, a male teacher’s may be viewed as sexually suggestive.” Experts have found that only 5 percent of accusations involve female teachers and male students.
- Avoid using physical force to discipline a student. Verbal commands are advised instead.
- Never allow a student to obsess over you. “While a crush can be flattering, it also can be fatal, so always nip it in the bud,” states NEA. “If a student expresses a love interest, respond with an unambiguous ‘no.’”
- Be particularly wary of “troubled” students. For students with emotional needs, NEA advises, “While you can and should express concern and compassion, don’t take on the role of confidant or counselor. Instead, refer the student to the school counselor.”
- Be especially vigilant if you hold certain teaching positions. Employees who perform certain jobs may have an increased risk of false allegations. Those jobs include athletic coaches, performing arts teachers and publications advisers.
Punishments for improper teacher-student relationships can be severe
Whether or not you’ve followed all of this advice, you may face a false allegation or false accusation of an improper teacher-student relationship. If so, do not take this lightly, since it could affect the rest of your career.
As such claims rise, Texas is cracking down on improper teacher-student relationships, and punishments for sex with children are severe, including high fines and jail time.
The NEA advises that those facing such false accusations shouldn’t talk to school administrators or law enforcement officers without consulting an NEA or legal representative. “In most circumstances, your representative should accompany you to any meeting,” the NEA advises.
You may need a skilled defense attorney to be that representative.
Persons in Houston, Harris County, Fort Bend County and Montgomery County should contact the Neal Davis Law Firm for free legal advice. You may need to engage an experienced sex crime defense lawyer to protect your legal rights if you face a false claim of inappropriate teacher-student behavior.
We have years of experience helping people like you to protect their legal rights when accused of an improper teacher-student relationship.