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TEA Investigating More Shady Student-Teacher Relationships

The Texas Education Agency is reporting a rise in the number of investigations opened on allegations of inappropriate student-teacher relationships over the past three years, according to newly released numbers by the agency.

The number of investigations into student-teacher relationships has risen from 141 in 2009-10 to 179 in 2013-14, according to the agency. Under the state penal code, a school district employee who engages in sexual contact with a student is committing a second-degree felony, even if the student is 18 years of age or older.

While it's clear that the numbers have gone up, no reason is cited for the increase. Local school district superintendents are required to report allegations of inappropriate relationships at the local level and state level, and the higher number of incident reports could be because folks are getting better about identifying and reporting improper educator-student relationships.

Or it could simply be because there are more shady teachers hanging out at Texas schools, so more are getting caught. But whatever the cause, allegations of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students do seem to be pretty prevalent in the news as of late.

Earlier this week, Ashley Zehnder, a biology teacher and cheerleading coach in Pasadena ISD made headlines after being charged with having an improper relationship with a 17-year-old male student who was a member of the school's competitive cheer squad.

According to court records, the student told the school district's police department that the relationship started after he borrowed Zehnder's phone to locate his after it was misplaced. The student kept Zehnder's number in his cellphone, according to court records, and the two began exchanging text messages.

The complaint, filed with the Harris County District Attorney's Office, also states that the student and Zehnder allegedly started having sex in May at the teacher's apartment, and continued the relationship through the summer. Zehnder's attorney has denied the allegations.

Sharpstown High School Principal Robert Gasparello has been the subject of scrutiny -- and headlines -- since late 2013, when a Sharpstown teacher was arrested for an inappropriate relationship with a student.

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Sharpstown Spanish teacher Ysidoro Rosales-Motola was arrested and was charged with one felony count of indecency with a child and two felony counts of an improper relationship with a 16-year-old student in 2013. Gasparello was then charged with three counts of failing to report child abuse after failing to tell police about the accusations that Rosales-Motola had inappropriately touched male students.

Prior to his tenure with Sharpstown, Rosales-Motola was employed at Westbury High School, where he was investigated by the Houston Police Department on allegations that he had touched a male student in 2011.

Sharpstown High School Assistant Principals Silvio Leiva and Jason Thomson were also charged, and both Gasparello and Leiva accepted the same pretrial diversion deal from the DA's office. Charges against Thomson were dismissed..

Under the deal, if Gasparello and Leiva stay out of trouble for a year, they will come away with a clean record. Gasparello recently resumed his position as head of Sharpstown High School.

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