How much contact should teachers have with their students?

In April, New Berlin English teacher Sara Domres, 28, was charged with two felony counts of sexual assault after administrators learned she’d been having sex and sharing hundreds of text messages with her 16-year-old male student. About two months later, a 23-year-old former student teacher at Random Lake High School north of Port Washington was arrested and charged with sending explicit Snapchat messages to 15-year-old students. Dustin Veldboom said he’d been drunk, having had no fewer than seven old fashioned cocktails.

Terry Abbott, a former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education, says such cases are on the rise, and there’s a simple solution: a complete ban on social media and texting between teachers and students. And he’s not the only expert warning of chat’s dangers. William Henk, the Education dean at Marquette University, says electronic communication can become “a slippery slope” leading to bad behavior.

Many Milwaukee-area districts have policies that limit contact between teachers and students but fall short of Abbott’s standard. Milwaukee Public Schools, the diocesan Catholic schools and the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District ban only personal communication over social media between teachers and students. School-related talk is allowed. In none of the schools contacted for this story was texting or other forms of chat strictly verboten.

Henk says the districts he’s worked with have staked out a middle ground where texting is allowed, but “You’re only able to talk about school-related topics or with group text.” Some teachers have turned to the smartphone app Remind to communicate with large groups of students, as it masks the phone numbers of both those sending and those receiving messages.

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‘Message Alerts’ appears in the August issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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