NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Teachers behaving badly – It’s not a new problem, but new modes of communication are making inappropriate comments and relationships all too easy.READ MORE: Prices At The Pump Climbing In Texas As Rising Trend Hits Nearly 21-Month High
The CBS 11 I-Team has found in a lot of cases, the problem starts with the policies. Electronic policies in some school districts are four paragraphs long, but in other districts they are four pages long. Our investigation uncovered if the right policies are not in place, the texting, tweeting or Facebook messages can get out of hand very quickly.
Think of this problem like a big spider web; tangled inside the web are teachers, students, parents and administrators. They are all important in their own right and all connected by one common thread – electronic communication.
“My comment was racist. I can’t deny that,” Vinita Hegwood said.
Hegwood is speaking out for the first time about a tweet that went viral and eventually got her fired from Duncanville High School.
“You said some pretty awful things,” Investigative Reporter Mireya Villarreal noted in their interview. “What sort of an example does that set for students?”
“I’m sorry for example I set for my students,” Hegwood answered. “But I’m not exactly sorry for the fact that I reacted to people who were being disrespectful towards me.
In a letter to the district Hegwood explains the problem started when she posted tweets about the riots in Ferguson, Missouri.
Hegwood read us part of the letter during her interview, “As a result of these tweets people, non-black, who disagreed with my opinion proceeded to fill my timeline and my inbox with racist, hateful comments.”
Duncanville ISD declined an on-camera interview. Instead, they sent us a statement about Hegwood’s dismissal and their electronic media policy.
“The Duncanville Independent School District stands by its actions in terminating the employment of Vinita Hegwood on November 14, 2014 for egregious and offensive comments she made on her social media account. Duncanville ISD embraces diversity, and the personal opinions of one person do not represent the district as a whole.” – Lari Barager, Director of External Communications for Duncanville ISD.
But Hegwood says the district’s policy is too vague and accuses the district of not having properly training employees on personal use policies.
“I’ve never seen anything that says if someone curses you on Twitter and you curse back and it’s on a Friday evening, on your own time, and enough people get mad, you’ll lose your job,” she added.
The CBS 11 I-Team also took a look at other forms of electronic communication in public schools. They reached out to dozens of school districts and found a lot of them lump Tweeting, blogging, Facebook messaging, other forms of social media into the same policy as private texting messaging.
That’s why we took a closer look at several cases where texting was the culprit. The Brittni Colleps case out of Kennedale is a perfect example.
The former teacher and coach, who was recently released from prison for having sex with several of her students, started her sexual relationship with a text message.
Investigative Reporter Mireya Villarreal tried to talk with Colleps not long after being released, but she didn’t want to say much.
“Is there anything you do want to say to the victims or people,” Villarreal asked.
“No,” Colleps said. “I’ve already said everything I’m going to say.”
Policies like the one from Kennedale allow coaches, teachers and trainers to send text messages to their students without parents knowing about it if it’s about an extracurricular duty. So, Colleps initial message to her student was within the district’s policy.
But the I-Team gained access to hundreds of pages of text messages exchanged between Colleps and her student, evidence in her criminal case. In a matter of days their relationship goes from flirting to sex. These are just a few of the texts the two shared.READ MORE: Canton Resident $1M Richer After Claiming Winning Texas Lottery Scratch Ticket
Colleps: “Hey – It’s coach colleps… do u know what time the baseball game starts?”
Student: “Nice top u got on…”
Colleps: “LMAO… i have plenty of lingerie…
Student: “I’m not gonna tell anybody wat we txt about or nothin…”
Colleps: “I know, I trust u…. but all it would take is one person suspecting something…”
Student: “Wanna a pic of my body”
Colleps: “Hell yea!”
Student: “I wanna hav sex again 2nite…”
In 2009, the Texas Education Agency had 141 cases of inappropriate relationships between educators and students. Last year there were 179. The agency points to social media and other forms of electronic communication as a major factor in this increase.
“The problem in Texas is Texas-sized,” Terry Abbott noted.
Terry Abbott was a high-ranking education official during the bush administration who now works with school districts across the state.
“Teachers have instantaneous, private, any-time contact with children electronically,” Abbott noted.
Abbott now advocates for much tougher communication policies.
While Duncanville and Kennedale ISD refused to talk with us about their policies, Burleson ISD did.
“Student safety is job,” Dr. Bret Jimerson told us.
Burleson ISD hasn’t had one of those inappropriate relationship cases since 2012, but Superintendent Bret Jimerson is still on alert.
“When we communicate with our students via social media it is important that it’s not one on one,” Jimerson explained.
Hired less than two years ago, Jimerson made the district’s social media policy a priority. He relies on employees, parents and even students to let them know when someone’s breaking the rules.
Both Jimerson and Abbott agree, in the end, the biggest victims that get caught up in this tangled web are the kids and their parents.
Abbott added, “We have to believe, unless we get aggressive about handling this issue, the potential is that this could get much worse in years to come.”
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