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State officials open up about the increase in inappropriate student-teacher relationships

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OKLAHOMA CITY - An alarming number of teachers are accused of having sexual relationships with students in the Sooner State.

Many people are left wondering, "Why does it keep happening?"

In the past six months almost two dozen Oklahoma teachers have been accused of having sexual relationships with students.

Kyle Whitmus, a former band teacher in Luther was arrested for allegedly having sex with a student under the age of 14.

Moore High School teacher, Sandra Mayfield, is accused of performing oral sex on a 17-year-old student.

Victoria Dacalio, a former teacher of the year in Oklahoma City was charged with two counts of indecent exposure for allegedly sending inappropriate videos to an 18-year-old student.

In May 2016, officials said they were investigating a Yale math teacher who allegedly had sexual relationships with several students.

The number of teachers accused of having inappropriate relationships with their students seems to be on the rise.

"I can tell you that OSBI gets requests like these from across the state at least once a month," Jessica Brown with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said. "This is becoming a very prevalent problem in our society."

“This is a big deal, because these individuals, these adults are preying on children," Brown continued. "No matter their age. If they're 17 or even 18, they're still a child, and it's still against the law."

Under Oklahoma law, it is illegal to have a sexual relationship with any student younger than 20 years old.

State Senator Kyle Loveless authored the law last year that requires districts to report any suspicions of misconduct to the Oklahoma State Board of Education.

After the report, the board can temporarily suspend a teacher while authorities investigate the case.

Before the law changed, the districts handled those cases internally.

"A teacher could offend, resign and then literally move across the street and re-offend and no district could talk to each other," Sen. Loveless said. "It was a personnel matter."

The Board of Education recently released their findings.

The numbers are worse than Loveless imagined.

Nearly two dozen Oklahoma teachers have been temporarily suspended since November.

Along with Mayfield, Whitmus and Decalio, several other teachers from districts all across the state are being investigated by authorities.

"I'm sad that there are so many cases, but it's also validation that we were right," Loveless said. "That there are up to 19 teachers that have lost their licenses that wouldn't have before."

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister hopes this new law will stop perpetrators in their tracks.

"This is a very important issue and it is really compounded by a shrinking pool, a thinning pool of applicants in school districts," State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said. "We are greatly concerned. We need to solve that teacher shortage. Bills like this will keep our students more safe."

A local family therapist who specializes in sex addiction is shedding light on what may be behind the inappropriate student-teacher relationships.

"Anytime there is a person in a position of power and authority, there's always potential for exploitation,” Joshua Nichols said.

Nichols says there are two scenarios at work here.

"They are out there trying to get into the system. They're searching, they're seeking, they're grooming, trying to find the right person ...that they could prey on,” he said.

But in some cases, it's goes deeper.

"A teacher could get in there and really connect to that student and maybe because of something that went on in their own life in their own woundedness, that feeling that they felt that felt really good that in connecting in helping that student they assigned a meaning to it that just wasn't realistic or appropriate," Nichols said.

Then mix in the technology factor.

91% of teens are online.

"Part of the boundary violations...is it appropriate for a teacher to be a Facebook friend with a student? What about college teachers and Facebook friends?” Nichols asked.

Right now it's up to each district to come up with their own policies.

"We do call for districts to have a great scrutiny on social media policy on their employees and students,” Hofmeister said.

Parents also play an important role.

"My daughter's going to high school next year and we always have conversation about how people should be treating her and appropriate behavior and inappropriate behavior," Tana Grissom said.

Senator Loveless says he'll continue pushing for more protection for students in school.

"If we can protect a kid's innocence and literally their soul, because it shakes a kid when they get abused and it changes their life. If we can protect that by making sure these people go to jail, then why the hell do we not?" Loveless stated.

Some warning signs for parents:

  • Your son or daughter wants to study with the teacher late in the evening, or the teacher wanting to come over to the house to help the student
  • Also , the student wanting to hang out with the teacher more than other adults.
  • Another red flag is getting gifts from the teacher.