Recent Allegations Highlight Electronic Communication Concerns between School Staff, Students

Joe Augustine, KSTP.com, October 10, 2014

Video available

Teachers are supposed to be trusted. Recently, two teachers and a coach in Minnesota are accused of breaking that trust.

A Catholic school teacher in Plymouth is under investigation for allegedly sending inappropriate emails to his female students. The Headmaster at Providence Academy, which serves students from pre-kindergarten through high school, confirmed the teacher was fired.

“We don’t tolerate behavior like that. We immediately terminated the teacher and contacted local authorities,” Todd Flanders said.

The teacher has not been identified. Plymouth police confirmed a criminal investigation is underway.

That investigation was launched the same week two other school officials were arrested.

On Monday, Daniel Hubbard Wilson, 27, was charged with having sex with a student while he was a tennis coach at Visitation High School in Mendota Heights. He later quit.

On Tuesday, Mary Gilles, 28, was charged with having sex with a 17-year-old student at Pacelli High School in Austin. She was fired a day later. Private emails between Gilles and the student helped school officials investigate the extent of the relationship, according to police documents.

“These are egregious,” said Mary Cecconi, a parent and former teacher. Cecconi is the Executive Director of Parents United for Public Schools. She believes children need to trust their teachers to obtain a better education, but that trust has limits.

“It’s a double message now,” Cecconi said. “As a parent you have to tell your children, ‘We’d like you to respect authority, but there are people who are not particularly trustworthy.’”

Code of Ethics

The Minnesota Board of Teaching has a code of ethics for Minnesota teachers. Private school teachers are not required to be licensed by the state, but if they are, their license may be suspended or revoked if standards are not followed.

Code standards include:

“A teacher shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to health and safety.”

“A teacher shall not use professional relationships with students, parents and colleagues to private advantage.”

The code does not address social media or inappropriate electronic communications between teachers and students.

“Now, there are more situations than ever that were probably not imagined at the time our code of conduct was written,” Executive Director Erin Doan said. “It’s really a local decision for schools to be setting policy or doing training with their teachers to say what is recommended as far as a social media policy or their email use.”

Doan said the code of ethics could be changed and updated in the future.

Parents know social media and email connects students and teachers far outside the classroom.

“That’s a whole area into of itself,” Cecconi said.

Policies, codes and licenses all come down to the same point for teachers in private and public schools.

“No matter how old the children are, they are the adult; therefore, they have to draw the line,” Cecconi said.

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