When boundaries between teachers and students are crossed- How the law steps in

STEUBEN COUNTY, N.Y. (18 NEWS) - Teachers and sexual contact with their students-- it's something that's continuing to make headlines and it's a concern parents now face when they send their kids to school, but what happens when a teacher wants to sexually engage a student? How does the justice system handle such a delicate situation?

In April, 2016, Kelly Conway, a former teacher with the Corning-Painted Post School District was arrested for having sexual contact with one of her students. The student was under the age of 17.

Conway was charged for rape in the third degree and had to give up her teaching license. It was a case where the trust parents place on their children's teachers was broken. And a line between professionalism and intimacy was crossed.

"I think anytime that there's a public incident where a teacher is found to have violated the law, it's considered a violation of the public trust and people certainly have questions," Jeffrey Delorme, the assistant superintendent for the Corning-Painted Post Area School District, said. "They certainly ask questions of us, they ask questions of other public officials and we do our best to respond to them to the extent we can."

School officials also have to respond to law enforcement in cases like this. New York State law requires any case of professional misconduct, even if it's a suspicion, to be reported to law enforcement.

"If we're talking about a child under the age of 17, it's a law enforcement issue and they're the lead agency," Delorme said. "We're not going to get in their way. We work cooperatively with them, but they're the ones that ultimately lead the investigation ."

"You don't want to go out and falsely accuse someone, certainly, but you also want to make sure you honor the victim and protect them through the process," Brooks Baker, the Steuben County District Attorney, said. "So the police department did that and they worked with school officials and became a cooperative investigative process that involved other things like controlled phone calls and the same kinds of investigatory techniques we use in almost any kind of case."

Some factors to look at are social media and text messages, and phone calls. Even if these records are deleted, investigators can still get copies through subpoenas. While it didn't play a major role in the Conway case, it does give investigators insight on how events between a teacher and student unfolded. 

"One, it has played a role in initiating the contact as far as letting this stuff happen outside of school and we've had teachers prosecuted for sending inappropriate pictures to students in efforts to create relationships," Baker said. "We've had off things happen, inappropriate things happen or we have the relationships happen over text message or over email."

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 3.1 million teachers across the United States an these cases that we hear are few and far in between.

"We are taught to trust our teachers and we should," Baker said. "There are a lot of great folks who care about their students and a caring teacher is not the same as an abusive teacher."

Baker adds that, "an abusive teacher is a predator, it's the same as a predator on the streets, they just have more access to kids."

He also said that if you see an unrecognized phone number on your cell phone bill's list of calls and texts, have a talk with your child. If your child is talking constantly about a certain teacher, these could be red flags.


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