Sep 3, 2014 12:00 AM by Marisa Mendelson
San Simon - Did employees of a Cochise County school know about a possible inappropriate teacher / student relationship more than five months before it was reported to law enforcement? Investigative Reporter Marisa Mendelson obtained documents that reveal new details about a possible sexual relationship involving a 34-year old female teacher and a 16-year old student at San Simon High School.
In May, a spokesperson for the Cochise County Sheriff's Office says it was first notified about a possible inappropriate teacher / student relationship at San Simon High School. However, according to incident reports obtained by News 4 Tucson, a school employee told investigators that same teacher was confronted at the school about text messages between her and the same student, more than five months earlier.
"The allegation involves improper, inappropriate sexual acts," said Sheriff Mark Dannels of the Cochise County Sheriff's Office.
According to incident reports, a 16-year old student at San Simon High School told investigators his relationship with the teacher "began during the summer of 2013 with Facebook and started with conversations about school ‘stuff'." Investigators say the student told them his relationship with the 34-year old woman eventually "became physical."
"She took this student and that trust has been violated, and that student will carry that the rest of his life," said Sheriff Dannels. "It's sad."
According to incident reports, when investigators interviewed people at the school, one person said the teacher and student "have been sending each other text messages along with sending messages over Snap Chat."
Detectives say the student told them the phone he was "using was purchased for him by (the teacher)."
"If a teacher's having an inappropriate, illegal act with a student, we want to know about it," said Sheriff Dannels.
However, the Cochise County Sheriff's Office may not have been notified about possibly inappropriate texts until more than five months after someone first complained to the school.
After reading through incident reports, News 4 Tucson discovered a teacher's aide told investigators she informed the Special Education Director about "texting occurring between (the teacher) and (the student)." The Teacher's Aide told investigators the "timeframe" for that report was "late December 2013 to January 2014." The Sheriff's Office says it was notified about a possible inappropriate student / teacher relationship on May 15th.
"You know, it seems like it should have been reported but I don't know what the circumstances were," said a parent at San Simon High School.
According to Arizona law (13-3620), school personnel "who reasonably believes that a minor is or has been the victim of physical injury, abuse, child abuse, a reportable offense or neglect" must "immediately report or cause reports to be made of this information to a peace officer or to the department of child safety."
State law (15-514) also says a report must be made to the Department of Education within "three business days after the person first suspects or receives an allegation of the conduct."
According to the Executive Director of the Arizona State Board of Education, the context of the text messages could determine if a teacher crossed the line.
Marisa Mendelson, News 4 Tucson: "Do you think that these allegations should have been reported to you by the school?"
Christine Thompson, Executive Director of the Arizona State Board of Education: "That is a very difficult question for me to answer because it depends on the nature of the conduct."
Jonathan Truschke, the Principal / Interim Superintendent of the San Simon Unified School District sent News 4 Tucson the following statement:
"I have no knowledge that any staff member had any information regarding the teacher prior to the time the information was reported to a law enforcement. Teachers and staff are trained annually on their duty to report; if a teacher or staff member had such knowledge and failed to report it immediately to law enforcement, the teacher or staff member could obviously be charged with failing to report a reportable offense, a class 6 felony. Just the knowledge of teachers and/or staff members communicating with students whether it be via text or social media is not a reportable offense. Many educators and coaches use this type of technology to communicate with students, players, and parents. Training is even made available to teachers who do want to use this type of technology to communicate with students. So to answer your question; no, the text messages were not investigated. It wasn't until after the report was made that I learned that "Snap Chat" was being used. In addition, staff and even board members are required to report suspected unprofessional acts between teachers and students to the State Board of Education within 3 business days. Again, if the teacher had knowledge and did not report, the teacher could be disciplined by the State Board of Education. Since the teacher that purportedly had knowledge moved overseas prior to the report being made to law enforcement, I cannot discover what she knew or didn't know and whether she complied with her duty to report."
The Cochise County Sheriff's Office says after detectives served search warrants for the phones, they did find text messages between the teacher and student. However, the Sheriff's Office is staying tight-lipped about what exactly was found, since the case is still under investigation.
Marisa Mendelson, News 4 Tucson: "What was the nature of those text messages?"
Sheriff Mark Dannels, Cochise County Sheriff's Office: "Again, I'll hold on that. I'll hold on that."
The nature of those texts could be key to this case, because texting between a student and teacher is not in itself illegal.
Marisa Mendelson, News 4 Tucson: "Do you think there could be more victims?"
Sheriff Mark Dannels, Cochise County Sheriff's Office: "At this time, I don't know and we're looking into that. It's part of why it's taking a little bit of time from my understanding, but hopefully we'll have this wrapped up soon."
The Cochise County Attorney's Office has not yet filed any charges against the teacher. However, the Sheriff's Office says the teacher could possibly be charged with "child molestation" and "sexual conduct with a minor."
If you have a tip you'd like the News 4 Tucson investigative team to look into, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (520) 955-4444.