HOUSTON - After new, shocking allegations of a teacher having a sexual relationship with her 13-year-old student, many parents began asking why these incidents seem to occur more frequently than in years past.
Alexandria Vera is not the first teacher at Stovall Middle School to be accused of improper sexual acts with a student. In 2014, Felicia Smith was dismissed and faced criminal charges for giving a sexually suggestive lap dance to a student in a classroom, as a present for his 15th birthday. She was sentenced to three years probation.
In recent years, Texas has consistently led the nation in the sheer number of teacher-student sexual assaults and sexual relationships.
Former U.S. Department of Education Chief of Staff Terry Abbott, now of the Houston public relations firm Drive West Communications, cited research in 2014 showing Alabama with the highest per capita rate, but Texas, at 116 accusations and convictions, leads the United States in such cases.
To put it in perspective, Pennsylvania comes in second with 45 cases.
Abbott termed it an “epidemic” with nearly half of all Texas cases involving some form of social media connection between the teacher and student. Nationwide surveys have shown a roughly 35 percent rate of social media involvement in teacher-student relationships that eventually become sexual.
"In its best sense, that allows teachers to provide homework assignments, keep track of projects, bring classes together,” Gene Acuna with the Texas Education Agency told KHOU 11 News in 2014 when asked about social media contact between teachers and their students. “But it also allows them on the darker side opportunities to communicate with students where the parent may or may not know about it.
In one of numerous recent cases in the Houston area, Rebecca De La Garza at Thompson Intermediate in Pasadena ISD in 2011, was charged with sexual assault of a child under the age of 17 and charged with improper relationship with a student. Prosecutors say they found evidence of more than 22,000 text messages and 2,000 phone calls between the teacher and student. Harris County Criminal Court records show De La Garza was given five years deferred adjudication, a form of probation.
Abbott said the problem is two-fold.
“A lot of the cases in Texas have involved coaches,” he said. “Texas definitely has a problem with its coaches.”
Also, few district ban teachers from sending secret messages to students.
“We’ve got unfortunately, we have teachers who use their classroom like a single’s bar where they can pick up anybody they want to,” Abbott said. “That’s what’s happening in a lot of these cases. It’s a terrifying thing for children.”
Stovall Middle School parent Jessica Marin said something needs to be done.
"Everybody needs to get involved and they need to do something, because these are our children. It's messing up our children's minds," she said.