State calls for training, rules to combat predator educators

Posted March 26, 2010 6:25 p.m. EDT
Updated March 26, 2010 7:06 p.m. EDT

— The State Board of Education has revoked or suspended the licenses of 46 teachers statewide in the last five years because they had sexual contact with students.

Three former area educators have been charged with such crimes in recent days:

  • Former Wilson County middle school principal Ronald Barringer is charged with having photos of underage girls engaged in sex.
  • Former Fuquay-Varina High School coach Mardy Cutchin is charged with having sex with a 16-year-old student.
  • Former West Johnston High School band director Lance Britt is charged with having sex with at least one 17-year-old student.

"I am very dismayed to hear about all of the cases of inappropriate behavior," state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said Thursday, noting that the vast majority of North Carolina's teachers and administrators maintain a positive and professional relationship with students.

"Teachers must be held to a higher standard of moral behavior," she said.

Atkinson pushed for a state task force to review teacher ethics. The panel's recommendations, which were released a month ago, call for expanded ethics training, tougher license regulation and better tracking of suspicious behavior.

"We don't want a problem in one school district to become a problem in another school district," Atkinson said.

Stephanie Francis, support services director at Interact in Raleigh, said the nonprofit counsels many children betrayed by their teachers.

"It is easy for a child to listen to somebody in authority – somebody they trust – and absorb those messages and not go out and tell someone what's going on, even if they are uncomfortable with what's happening in this relationship," Francis said. "It can definitely have a very serious and very lasting effect."

The growth of social media appears to have expanded the opportunity for educators to cross the line with students. Compared with the 46 license suspensions and revocations in the last five years, there were 79 in the previous 21 years for having sexual contact with students.

One task force recommendation would draw clear lines for teachers and students when interacting on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media.

"What you do online when you think it's in the privacy of your own computer is not in the privacy of your own computer," Atkinson said.

Francis and other counselors say parents can play an important role in stopping inappropriate teacher-student behavior. They advised parents to be mindful of adult relationships with their children, monitor the boundaries and maintain open communication with their children.