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The blurred lines of ethical and legal consent in schools

by Sharon Reagan
Mon, Feb 13th 2017 10:25 pm
Photo taken from AAUW on Twitter
Photo taken from AAUW on Twitter

A hot button issue in schools recently has been romantic and sexual relationships between teachers and their students. High school relationships have been harder to judge, as students generally are of age to give legal sexual consent or older by their senior year. However, an issue is that there is not a clear line between what is and is not ethical. In most cases if someone is of age of consent and gives consent, then it should not be a huge legal issue but what are we supposed to think when it is a person of authority such as a teacher?

 This is where the gray lines appear and although it may not be ethical to date a student, it would also be wrong to label them as a sex offender. An example of this happened recently in Texas. 

According to the Yahoo article, "Why This Teacher Who Slept With Students Will Not Have to Register as Sex Offender," by Alex Eriksen, "28-year-old Haeli Wey pled guilty to two felony counts of having an improper relationship with a student this week though she will not have to register as a sex offender" and "Both were 17 years old, the legal age of consent in Texas — which is predominantly why Wey will not have to register as a sex offender." 

Now although the students are the age of consent, this does not mean she cannot have any consequences at all. There's a lot that goes into the affair, such as her power over the students and what is considered professional. If she was teaching them at the time of the relationship and had some sort of power over them and their grades, this could bring up questions. Was she unfairly grading them over another student? However, this goes for any position or profession. Many workplaces have rules set which state significant others cannot work in the same department because again, things could be done unfairly if one is above the other.

 According to the Forbes article, "The Truth about Office Romance," by Peggy Drexier, "Even those who are not dating superiors become subject to accusations of favoritism from co-workers when it comes to promotions, restructuring of teams, or financial bonuses. They become easy targets for those colleagues inclined to use office gossip as a means to undermine, or get ahead themselves."

Although someone might not be after more power from their significant other, people can start nasty rumors which can ruin a professional setting and relationship. Teachers abusing their power should be terminated for their actions. 

These articles about teachers especially never seem glamorous at all, which can make someone wonder why it happens at all. The truth is, however, Hollywood and popular culture seem to make these relationships glamorous. Many young adults are aware of the student teacher relationship between Aria Montgomery and Ezra Fitz in the Freeform show "Pretty Little Liars." The parents got angry at first when they find out, but the show then normalizes and glamorizes it. 

According to theyoungfolks.com article, "Don't Stand So Close to Me: Top Ten Student/Teacher Affair Storylines in Teen TV," by Bri Lockhart, this was not the only television show to have this type of relationship in it. Other popular shows included "Dawson's Creek," "Saved by the Bell," "Life Unexpected," "Life as we Know it," "Veronica Mars," "Gossip Girl" and "One Tree Hill." 

This can be a problem since a majority of these shows are watched by teenagers. Someone may think they are cooler or more mature if they are involved with an older partner that has authority over them, such as a teacher.

Many of us can think of a story we know where someone got involved with their student whether it was during their time as a student or after they graduated, but it does not mean it should be considered normal. 

Although it may not be ethically right to be in love or sleep with a student, if they gave consent there should not be a punishment such as being a registered sex offender but they should be terminated from their position. If it were not for pop culture normalizing and glamorizing these relationships, maybe we would see less of this happening.


 sreag2@brockport.edu