High school teacher ac­cused of im­proper stu­dent con­tact

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Melissa B. Taboada mtaboada@states­man.com

A Lock­hart High School science teacher has been ar­rested af­ter be­ing ac­cused of hav­ing an im­proper re­la­tion­ship with a stu­dent, the Lock­hart school dis­trict an­nounced Mon­day.

Sarah Fowlkes, who taught anatomy and phys­i­ol­ogy, was sus­pended from her job. The dis­trict also was no­ti­fy­ing the State Board for Ed­u­ca­tor Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion about the case.

The dis­trict said it first re­ceived a re­port about the re­la­tion­ship March 10, be­fore the start of spring break, and alerted Lock­hart po­lice and Child Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices.

“Lock­hart par­ents en­trust their chil­dren to us ev­ery day, and it is some­thing we do not take lightly,” Su­per­in­ten­dent Su­san Bohn said in a state­ment. “The dis­trict does not and will not tol­er­ate any im­proper com­mu­ni­ca­tion or con­tact be­tween a teacher and child.”

Bohn emailed Lock­hart High par­ents Mon­day to no­tify them of the ar­rest and Fowlkes’ sus­pen­sion. The su­per­in­ten­dent also asked par­ents to speak with their chil­dren about what hap­pened, and asked any­one with in­for­ma­tion about the sit­u­a­tion to con­tact Lock­hart po­lice.

Fowlkes, who grew up in Drip­ping Springs, had worked in the dis­trict since Oc­to­ber 2014. She pre­vi­ously taught third- and fifth-grade science and so­cial stud­ies at Plum Creek Ele­men­tary in the dis­trict, ac­cord­ing to a cached web page now deleted from the dis­trict’s web­site. Fowlkes earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in bi­ol­ogy from St. Ed­ward’s Univer­sity and went through the UTeach pro­gram at the Univer­sity of Texas be­fore earn­ing an al­ter­na­tive teach­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to that web page.

Fowlkes’ ar­rest comes as the num­ber of re­ported cases of im­proper teacher-stu­dent re­la­tion­ships has hit record highs. Ear­lier this month, for­mer West­lake High School teacher Haeli Wey was sen­tenced to 10 years of pro­ba­tion and 200 hours of com­mu­nity ser­vice for en­gag­ing in sex­ual con­duct with two students in 2015. their em­ploy­ment prospects,” said Mark Wig­gins, lob­by­ist with the As­so­ci­a­tion of Texas Pro­fes­sional Ed­u­ca­tors.

The Texas State Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and the Texas chap­ter of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers also ex­pressed sim­i­lar con­cerns dur­ing the hear­ing.

Dale’s bill would re­quire job ap­pli­cants to ex­plain the facts of the case and whether the ac­cu­sa­tions were true or false. A false ac­cu­sa­tion wouldn’t pre­vent an ap­pli­cant from be­ing hired, the bill says, but fail­ing to dis­close re­quired in­for­ma­tion in the af­fi­davit could lead to ter­mi­na­tion.

Dale told the sub­com­mit­tee that the dis­clo­sure re­quire­ment is meant to keep teach­ers who have had im­proper re­la­tion­ships with students from qui­etly re­sign­ing from one school dis­trict to go to teach else­where. He re­ferred to half a dozen such cases in Cen­tral Texas and an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Amer­i­can-States­man, pub­lished in Fe­bru­ary, that found that teacher im­pro­pri­eties are of­ten kept se­cret by school dis­tricts.

The States­man set up a database to help the pub­lic iden­tify for­mer teach­ers ac­cused of such mis­con­duct and where they have worked in the past.

“It’s time that we fully ad­dress this is­sue and make sure that ed­u­ca­tors who have in­ap­pro­pri­ate re­la­tion­ships with students are not al­lowed to teach again,” Dale said.

Dale’s bill would also re­quire school dis­tricts to adopt a pol­icy to im­me­di­ately no­tify par­ents of al­le­ga­tions that their child had been in a re­la­tion­ship with a teacher.

The bulk of Dale’s bill is the same as an­other sweep­ing mea­sure — Sen­ate Bill 7 — that the Sen­ate ap­proved ear­lier this month. Both bills would:

■ Al­low teach­ers to be charged with im­proper re­la­tion­ship re­gard­less of where the stu­dent at­tends school.

■ Au­to­mat­i­cally re­voke a teach­ing li­cense if an ed­u­ca­tor must reg­is­ter as a sex of­fender or re­ceives de­ferred ad­ju­di­ca­tion of guilt over an im­proper re­la­tion­ship with a stu­dent, among other of­fenses against mi­nors.

■ Re­quire prin­ci­pals, not just su­per­in­ten­dents, to re­port teacher mis­con­duct to the Texas Ed­u­ca­tion Agency. Fail­ure to re­port would be a mis­de­meanor.

■ Re­voke the teach­ing li­cense of an ad­min­is­tra­tor who helps a teacher who had an im­proper re­la­tion­ship with a stu­dent get a job at an­other school dis­trict.

■ Re­quire school dis­tricts to im­ple­ment poli­cies on proper teacher-stu­dent elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

RALPH BAR­RERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Mark Wig­gins, lob­by­ist for the As­so­ci­a­tion of Texas Pro­fes­sional Ed­u­ca­tors, cited hir­ing con­cerns.

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