ATLANTA — Following the arrests of more than a dozen local teachers accused of sexual misconduct with students, Channel 2 Action News spent months investigating the rules in place to keep students safe.
In March, authorities in Gwinnett County arrested an Archer High School teacher after a student told investigators he and the teacher had sex three times.
We spoke with the student's mother, who wanted to remain anonymous.
"Never did I think he would be preyed upon by his teacher," the mother said.
In the seven months since that arrest, Channel 2 Action News has reported on eight more similar cases.
In April, authorities charged a Newton County high school teacher with sexually assaulting two students.
And in September, a Cobb County high school teacher was accused of asking a student for sex and making obscene phone calls.
"You hear a lot of people saying that it's a teacher having an inappropriate relationship with a child, but it's child abuse," said Emma Hetherington, the director of the Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic at the University of Georgia School of Law. “There's a power dynamic there.”
In October, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission issued an updated code of ethics for educators. It bans sexual acts and inappropriate communication with students.
We checked with more than a dozen local school districts to find out their rules.
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At least eight of the districts, including Gwinnett, Hall, Henry and Atlanta Public Schools, explicitly ban teachers from dating or having a sexual relationship with students.
"We feel very strongly about educating our employees about ethical behavior here," said Skye Duckett, Chief Human Resources Officer for APS.
Duckett said over the past five years, complaints of employee misconduct have decreased each year.
APS has some of the strictest rules we found, with two policies, one on general employee ethics and one specifically for social media, added in 2018.
"If they're questioning a text message or talking a student to something that's after school, my rule of thumb is always, 'Does their parent know? Would their parent be OK with that text message?'" Duckett said.
The rules are designed to protect students and teachers.
"It is a very difficult situation that educators grapple with on a daily basis because they want to be involved in their kids' lives but they don't want to get in trouble," Duckett said.
Duckett says parents can play a role by trying their best to monitor their children's phone and social media usage and to inform the school if anything seems off in a relationship with a teacher.
Under current Georgia law governing teacher-student relationships, only educators who teach at the same school as their victims can be charged under that statute.
Some state lawmakers are working to close that loophole during the upcoming legislative session.
Cox Media Group