I-Team: Social media resulting in more criminal charges for teacher misconduct

Ohio Department of Education statistics make it difficult to determine if teacher sexual misconduct is happening more nowadays; however, it's clear that social media is creating an evidence trail that didn't exist in the past and leading to more teachers facing criminal charges in court.

One of those is former Miamisburg Middle School teacher Jessica Langford. She's nearing the end of a one-year prison sentence for having sex with a 14-year old student in her classroom on the last day of school in 2017.

The victim's father talked to News Center 7 in his first interview and said he "couldn't believe that that would ever happen in the classroom. I don't see how anyone could ever do something like that, an adult. I mean there's 17 years difference at the time of the offense."

The father asked not to be identified to protect his son's identity. He said that one act has forever changed his son's life.

"Y'know, he's had to put up with bullying from other students," he said. "Y'know, people make comments, all kinds of disparaging comments."

State numbers and News Center 7 and Dayton Daily News reporting show Langford is just one of dozens of teachers caught having sexual contact with students.

"It's disheartening, it's sickening," said Dayton Teachers Union president David Romick. "I don't think it happens frequently but when it happens it's bad."

In 2017 alone, the Ohio Department of Education found there were 39 teachers with criminal sexual offenses. Another 863 teachers were found to have engaged in what's labeled as "conduct unbecoming."

But under current rules, the I-Team discovered it isn't clear how many of those hundreds of cases, if any, involved sexual misconduct.

University of Dayton professor Charlie Russo Ed.D, said he suspects "many of the problems we have today have been going on for a long time. It's just that social media magnify how often it happens."

Russo has authored papers and lectured aspiring teachers on appropriate use of social media.

"I think with social media now, as it permeates everything we do, teachers have lost the line between what's personal and what's professional," he said.

Here in the Miami Valley and Southwestern Ohio, at least ten teachers have been convicted of sex-related charges involving students since late 2013. At least five of them have gone to jail. Two are still in prison — Langford and former Fort Recovery teacher Christopher Summers.

Summers had a 28-month sexual relationship with a high school student that included thousands of calls and text messages — some of which threatened his victim. He is serving a 21-year prison term and not due for release until 2034.

The father of Langford's victim said she started contacting his son through Snapchat and that she "also texted him from another student's phone."

The proliferation of cell phones has coincided with an increase in teacher misconduct cases being linked to texting and other forms of social media. That's why the Ohio Department of Education is currently drafting stricter guidelines on how teachers should use social media to interact with students.

Romick said the new rules should be finalized very soon.

"If we can make sure our teachers know how to do that and have clear guidelines around that, we're all going to be better off," he said.

When the jury found Langford guilty in April 2018, she collapsed in tears, slammed her hands on the table and cried out, "I didn't do it!"

Weeks later at her sentencing she admitted her crime and apologized to her victim.

"I am completely responsible for my actions and should never have abused my power as a teacher," she said.

Like the others convicted, Langford can never teach again and must register as a sex offender.

Her victim's father said what cannot be forgotten is the heavy price his son is paying.

"Within the community, he has lost friends, very isolated," he said.

His son has transferred to another school district and is trying to move forward. The father said he's proud that his son reported the abuse by a teacher who — documents show — had a history of concerning behavior at least a year before the 14-year old became a victim.

"You don't want it to happen to someone else or their child, you don't, and that was the biggest reason why my son reported it."

David Vail, superintendent of Miamisburg Schools, said the district now has buttons on the homepage of its website where students can report bullying and sexual assault, and teachers can report staff misconduct — including sexual conduct and suspicious behavior.

The revised Licensure Code of Professional Conduct for Ohio Educators is currently posted for public comment here.