Educator/Student Relationships
Michelle Murphy
Alexander Halpern LLC
1426 Pearl Street, Suite 420
Boulder, Colorado 80302
I. Enable school district employees to identify and
respond to incidents of educator sexual misconduct.
II. Provide an awareness as to those behaviors which
increase an educator’s risk of exposure to claims of
misconduct, including appropriate use of the internet,
email and text messaging.
Educator Sexual Misconduct:
A Synthesis of Existing Literature
2004 Report Issued by the
U.S. Department of Education
Percent of Students In Grades 8 to 11
Who Have Experienced
Educator Sexual Misconduct
• 9.6 % reported contact and/or noncontact
educator sexual misconduct that was
• 8.7 % reported only noncontact misconduct
• 6.7 % reported only contact misconduct
(some reported both types)
Percent of Student Targets by
Job Title of Offender
Substitute Teacher-13%
Bus Driver-12%
Teacher’s Aide-11%
Other School Employee-10%
Security Guard-10%
Sex of the Offender
• 57.2 % of the time the offender was male
• 42.8 % of the time the offender was female
Sex of the Student
• 56 % of the time the student was female
• 44 % of the time the student was male
Which Students Are Most Likely To Be
Students estranged from their parents
Students who are unsure of themselves
Student who engage in risky behavior
Students whose parents are engaged in
risky behavior
• Students who are more likely to maintain
Inappropriate Relationships Do Not
Happen All of A Sudden!
• Develop over a period of time
• With some students it might be over a
brief period of time
• Other students take more “grooming”
Grooming of A Student
• Process where an abuser
– selects a student, gives the student attention and
rewards, provides the student with support and
– while at the same time slowly increasing the
amount of personal closeness through increased
communication (text-messaging, telephone
calls, MySpace/Facebook), touch and eventually
sexual behavior
Grooming of A Student
• Purpose is to:
Test the child’s reaction to such behavior
Increase the level of familiarity
Gain approval from parents
Determine the child’s ability to maintain secrecy
Desensitize the child through progressive sexual
– Learn information that will discredit the child
Difficult to Determine
• Activity takes place in private
• If the Student doesn’t want the relationship,
he/she might not report it because
– Student does not want to get anyone in trouble
– Student just wants the conduct to stop
– Student doesn’t think anyone will believe
• Who will believe a student over a 20-year employee?
Difficult to Determine
• The most problematic situation of all:
–Student is not upset by
the relationship
Notice of Educator Sexual Misconduct
Formal complaints
Informal complaints
Observed suspicious behaviors
Rumors and/or anonymous reports
Watch for Red Flags
• Don’t wait until you have absolute proof
(very seldom do you know absolutely)
• Watch for “conduct that is not indicative of
a professional teacher/student relationship”
• While not all educator misconduct
involves a sexual relationship,
inappropriate relationships that could lead
to further involvement must not be
Watch for Red Flags
• Change in student’s behavior
– Inappropriate sexual behavior, late arrivals to
class, changes in personality, increased time
with one school employee
• Rumors about a student and a teacher
• Behavior of the adult
– Close personal relationships with students, time
alone with students, time before and after
school with students, time in private spaces
with students, flirtatious behavior with
students, off-color remarks in class
– Text-messaging with students, participation in
MySpace/Facebook with students
Watch for Red Flags
• Behavior becomes “apparent” after
misconduct is revealed
• There will be many “missed opportunities”
– People are not sure about the conduct they
– People don’t want to wrongly accuse someone
for fear of a lawsuit
– People don’t want to become involved
Duty to Report Sexual Involvement
Between School Employee and Student
Colo. Rev. Stat. §19-3-304: School
district employees and officials who have
reasonable cause to know or suspect that a
child is being subjected to abuse or neglect
shall immediately report or cause a report
to be made of such fact to the county
department of social services or local law
enforcement. Abuse includes unlawful
sexual behavior.
Duty to Report Sexual Involvement
Between School Employee and Student
Colo. Rev. Stat. §22-32-109.7: If an employee of a school
district is dismissed or resigns as a result of an allegation of
unlawful behavior involving a child, including unlawful sexual
behavior, which is supported by a preponderance of the
evidence, within then business days after the dismissal or
resignation, the board of education shall notify the department of
education. A public school or charter school shall not enter into
a settlement agreement that would restrict the school from
sharing any relevant information related to the crime with the
department, another school district or charter school pertaining to
the incident upon which the dismissal or resignation is based.
District Liability
A student may recover from a school district
for sexual harassment by an employee only of
the student can establish that an appropriate
person had actual notice of and was
deliberately indifferent to the misconduct.
Actual Notice
• Must be reported to a person with authority to take corrective
• Notice as to harassment of other students may provide the
requisite notice.
• Requires more than a simple report of inappropriate conduct.
• Schools must have actual notice of a substantial risk of abuse to
• Prior instances need not be clearly credible because at some
point a supervisory official knows that an employee poses a
substantial risk.
Deliberate Indifference
• District will be liable where response is “clearly unreasonable in
light of the circumstances.”
• Must take “timely and reasonable measures” to end the
• Liability has been imposed where (i) Districts fail to investigate
and/or inform law enforcement or student’s parents; (ii) fails to
discipline offender; and/or (iii) fails to take additional steps if
harassment continues.
• Not required to take any particular disciplinary action;
• Victims do not have the right to seek particular remedial
How Does A School District
Protect Itself?
• Have a policy that addresses sexual
harassment (student-on-student, employeeon-student, employee-on-employee) and
establishes procedures for one to follow if
subjected to sexual harassment
• Designate an employee to coordinate the
school’s responsibilities
• Provide staff in-service
• Orientation for all students
• Copy of policies and procedures given to
all students and employees
How Does A School District
Protect Itself?
• Assurance that students who make
complaints or provide information will be
protected against retaliation
• Assurance that the school will protect the
confidentiality of harassment complaints
to the extent possible
• Assurance that the school will take
immediate and appropriate corrective
action when it determines that harassment
has occurred
Preventing Sexual Harassment in
1. Never use sexually explicit language or
tell sexually explicit/off color jokes in the
presence of students.
2. Never display sexually explicit or
pornographic pictures/materials on school
property and never show such materials
to students.
3. Avoid engaging in excessively personal
conversations, both in person and on the
phone, with students.
Preventing Sexual Harassment in
4. Avoid sending personal letters, cards or
gifts to students and don’t engage in textmessaging or MySpace/Facebook
communication with students.
5. Avoid commenting on the physical
appearance, including manner of dress
and specific physical attributes of
students. Educators should always dress
6. Avoid to the greatest extent possible
physical contact with or touching of
Preventing Sexual Harassment in
7. Avoid giving students rides home alone
or even in groups where eventually only
one student will remain in the car alone
with the adult.
8. Avoid off-school property, one-on-one
meetings alone with students, especially
in the home of the student or the adult.
Preventing Sexual Harassment in
9. Never plan or take unchaperoned
overnight school trips with students
and, on properly chaperoned trips,
exercise the highest degree of caution
and propriety regarding interaction with
10. Never date students under any
circumstances. Issues of power
differential, consent and credibility
make such relationships untenable
within any level of educational
Claim of Harassment
• Promptly investigate
• Take immediate and appropriate
corrective action