Creating a Safe Learning Environment for Students

Districts must report all sexually inappropriate incidents

High School should be a safe place for hormone-filled teenagers to grow as individuals and learn how to conduct themselves in the professional world. However, recent events have exposed that high school can and has been used as a hunting ground for sexual predators. It has become evident that school districts need to take higher measures conducting background checks to weed out pedophiles from the faculty.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Department said they arrested 20-year-old Tyler Johnson, an educational assistant at McNeil, on April 13, 2016. He has been charged with two counts of sexual assault of a child and two counts of improper relationship between educator and student. He was immediately removed from campus and fired from the district, but it is not the first time an incident has happened at McNeil or within Round Rock ISD.

In April 2015, Christopher Cotten, a McNeil Cross Country/Track Coach and math teacher, was arrested on a charge of sexual misconduct with an underage student. Cotten pleaded guilty to committing sexual acts with the student and sending inappropriate pictures and texts through a third party texting app. While Cotten’s acts were undeniably inexcusable, the real problem lies within the district’s inability to prevent this.

Cotten was a math teacher and coach at Austin High School from 1997 to March 2000, but he resigned after the Austin Independent School District learned he was sending inappropriate instant messages to a student. An investigation “did not reveal anything further than the inappropriate exchange of messages,” a statement from AISD said.

When Cotten was caught inappropriately corresponding with a student, AISD should have reported this behavior to the public and further questioned whether Cotten be allowed to continue having an authoritative role over students. Instead, AISD brushed it under the rug. The district defended its oversight by pointing out the Texas Legislature had not yet passed the inappropriate educator/student relationship statute, which criminalized sexual relationships between educators and students. This disregards the fact that Cotten was still an adult man pursuing high school girls. Cotten was employed for one year with Pflugerville ISD before he resigned again for unknown reasons and came to work in RRISD.

There must be a more elaborate screening of teachers before they are hired. Cotten’s actions at McNeil would not have happened if the districts focused more on exposing and recording inappropriate conduct within staff rather than burying it to save reputation. It would be more difficult for sexual offenders to hide within the school’s walls. It is inexcusable that prospective districts have to hire with such a blindness to a man’s past records because another employer’s need to save face. McNeil has surely felt the gravity of the situation.