Should Teachers be able to Text Students?

I completely agree with Alan Howe, who argues that it should be a crime for teachers to text a student without sending the same message to the parents of the child.

Some recent court cases have me thinking that we should update another Victorian law – as quickly as we can.

A scan of the evidence given in a series of trials over the last seven years involving predatory teachers abusing children in their care shows an alarming correlation.

Eltham North physical education teacher Karen Ellis had sex with a 15-year-old student of hers. She said she was in love with him. She was then married, with three children.

You’d reckon a part-time job and three kids would keep a young mum busy enough, but multi-tasking Ellis found time to send one young man 499 text messages in three months.

They had sex six times before the boy’s mother worked things out.

Ellis, sounding as dumb as she looks, said that she might have still been with the boy had he been older and the circumstances different. But he wasn’t, and they weren’t.

After lenient County Court judge John Smallwood suspended her sentence, three Court of Appeal judges more sensibly decided Ellis should be jailed.

Another female phys ed teacher, Belinda Campbell, was suspended from teaching after being found to have kissed a boy to whom she sent 200 text messages.

The trend is as clear as your ring tone: predatory teachers are using text messages to criminally prepare kids for sex that not only disrupts their school years, but can scar them for life.

They prefer text messaging for several reasons:

It doesn’t involve a ringing phone that could attract a parent’s attention – you know, like the way you might ask your son why his phone had just gone off 1000 times.

A silent communication can also be made at any hour.

Unlike an email, of which there might be a physical manifestation such as a printout – a text message is slyly elusive.

And unlike a family laptop, the mobile is not a shared device. It’s in your pocket.

The problem is obvious, and so is the solution.

Any Victorian teacher sending a text message to a child under their care, supervision or authority should be required to copy in that student’s parent or guardian.

Not to do so should be a criminal offence.

There will be a small degree of inconvenience in this, like there is in passing through security at the airport.

But it will do the trick in an instant.

The Victorian Institute of Teachers disciplinary panel found her guilty of serious misconduct, but suspended her for only a year.

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