Investigators: TeXXXting Teachers
Thursday, May 15, 2008 5:05:23 PM
Last Update: 5/08 9:10 am
We like to think of schools as protected and safe. But what happens after the closing bell rings and students and teachers engage in extracurricular activities?
In Missouri, officials say the law doesn’t provide enough guidance on what is appropriate student-teacher conduct.
NBC Action News Investigator Aaron Keller examined three recent cases where educators have not faced prosecution, despite sexual online chats with students and in some cases for going even further. School administrators raised concerns and police investigated but no one faced criminal charges. The question is “Why?”
Text messaging between teacher Christina Stranghoener and a student started out innocent.
“She texted him asking for directions," parent Laura White said. "That’s how she first got his cell phone number and first started texting him.”
But within three months the messages became sexually explicit, shocking parents as well as the student involved.
“He said, ‘Mom, it’s gross. If I say it’s gross, you know it’s gross,” Laura White remembers her son saying.
School administrators reported the incident to social services, and Warrensburg police investigated. Police reports show Stranghoener sent text messages to several students that are so graphic, we couldn’t air them on television or display them on the Internet.
Stranghoener resigned but she was never charged with a crime
"It just appalls me that something like this can happen," David White said. “Someone can slide out the back door and not be charged.”
In Kansas City’s Center School District, teacher Cory Kite stood accused of sending more than 100 sexually explicit text messages to a middle school girl. Records show those messages included “[D]o I make u horny?”, “U masturbate?" and "Ever think of me?”
Kansas City Police investigated but again, prosecutors never filed charges. Parents are wondering how does it happen?
Missouri law does not set standards for electronic communication specifically between students and teachers. The law does say a person can be charged with enticing a child if the adult uses the internet or any electronic communication for purposes of engaging in sexual conduct. In Missouri, that law only applies if the child is under 15 years of age.
Johnson County, Mo. Prosecutor Lynn Stoppy says, “As a prosecutor, there are many situations where we do feel helpless, because the statutes…don't allow us to do the things that perhaps as humans we think should be appropriate.”
In Excelsior Springs, prosecutors did not file charges against another teacher after examining the teacher's two-hour internet chat with a girl at his middle school. In that chat, the teacher gets the student to explain whether she has had any sexual experiences and even gets her to describe what she's wearing to bed.
The prosecutor who reviewed the report said there is not enough evidence of a crime. The Excelsior Springs School District said the teacher wants to resign. The school board has the right to take other action.
"You're talking about two different contexts, criminal context versus an educational environment," Shellie Guinn, attorney for the district, said, “The district isn't tied to the same standard a prosecutor would be tied to in a criminal context."
Some parents say these cases point to a need for new laws covering teacher-student contact to help keep students protected.
Remember teacher Christina Stranghoener? Police reports show her conduct went far beyond text messages.
“All of a sudden my son's at a party with friends, and receives a text message showing her breasts on his cell phone,” David White said.
In the police report, Stranghoener admits sending texts and pictures to several students. In that same report, she also admits to having sex with one of those students on two separate occasions. David White says, “We’re talking about a teacher serving the public and a student who’s still in high school.”
Prosecutors said Stranghoener did not commit a crime because in Missouri it is legal for students and teachers to have sex if it happens off school property and as long as they are both over 17, which is the age of consent.
That is leaving parents like David White outraged.
“If that was to happen on school grounds, not on school grounds, she’s still a teacher," David White said. "I don’t care what statute, or what book, but something needs to be changed.”
None of the teachers we contacted would comment about their conduct, but the Excelsior Springs teacher told police he was trying to mentor the girl he was messaging.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) said they had no idea about the Warrensburg case until we called to inquire about the status of Stranghoener’s teaching license. Ten days after our call, the district asked the state to revoke her license.
Wednesday, the Missouri Senate gutted a bill that could have made this type of communication against the law.
***Should the state of Missouri set legal standards restricting electronic communication specifically between teachers and students in grades K – 12?
Yes, teachers and students should not be allowed to communicate electronically in any way
Yes, students and teachers should be limited in the ways they communicate electronically
No, there should be no legal limitations on students and teachers electronically communicating
***Should the Missouri law regarding sex between teachers and students in grades K-12 change?
Yes, K-12 student-teacher sex should not be legal regardless of age
Yes, K-12 student-teacher sex should only be legal if the teacher is no longer the student's teacher
No, if both are over the age of consent, there is nothing wrong