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Case Studies

Issues revolving around sexual misconduct, as defined by the PSPC, are black and white. Teachers who engage in such conduct will be disciplined. The case studies provided below, however, present conduct that is more ambiguous. In each of the following fictional case studies, identify if and when the teacher crosses the appropriate student-teacher boundary. Can you discern any particular vulnerabilities of the teacher that may have contributed to their decision-making? Whose needs were being met by the teacher’s course of action? What could the teacher have done differently? Suggest what you think might be the potential employment and certification ramifications of the teacher’s conduct?

Case 1

Ms. P is a first year social studies teacher who teaches primarily twelfth grade students. At the end of the year, several of the seniors invite her to a graduation party. When Ms. P arrives to the party, she sees that underage students are drinking. Since parents are present, Ms. P decides to stay at the party even though many students are getting drunk. Since she is not the one providing alcohol for the party, Ms. P believes that she is not putting herself at risk. After the party, however, pictures surface showing Ms. P at the party drinking with her students.

Case 2

Mr. S is a middle school science teacher who has been tutoring Melissa after school for several months. Although Melissa's academic performance has been improving, Melissa's parents meet with the principal about concerns they have regarding Mr. S's relationship with Melissa. During their tutoring sessions, Mr. S has given Melissa gift cards as rewards for her academic progress, driven Melissa home after tutoring sessions and even begun to communicate with Melissa via text messaging during the evenings. While they have no proof of any impropriety, Melissa's parents are concerned. When the principal meets with the teacher, Mr. S argues that his behavior is not inappropriate and that he is simply offering assistance to a student in need.

Case 3

Mrs. K is a high school economics teacher whose husband recently divorced her. During a lesson one day, Mrs. K breaks down emotionally in front of her class. In an attempt to calm the students, she explains her emotional state to her students and discusses the end of her marriage. After school that day, a male student visits Mrs. K to see if she has recovered. The student explains that his parents are also divorcing and he understands her feelings. The student begins stopping in to see Mrs. K more frequently and the pair begins spending more time outside of class supporting each other. Mrs. K's colleagues start to become suspicious of her relationship with the student and report the teacher's actions to their principal.

Case 4

Mr. A is a high school science teacher in his third year of teaching. While supervising a study hall one day, he notices a former student, Susan, who looks sickly and gaunt. When he asks Susan about her well-being, she explains that she has been struggling with an eating disorder, although her parents and the school counselor do not know. Susan begs Mr. A to not tell anyone about her eating disorder and explains that she would get into trouble if her parents found out. Reluctantly, Mr. A agrees not to refer her to counseling or tell her parents as long as she agrees to have lunch with him daily. By joining him for lunch, Mr. A feels that he can monitor Susan's eating and help her work through her disorder. After months of private lunches together, rumors begin to spread about the pair's relationship and Mr. A is called into the principal's office to discuss the situation. Mr. A tries to explain the issue but remembers that he promised not to share information about Susan's eating disorder.

Case 5

After a disappointing collegiate field hockey career, Ms. W takes a job as a high school English teacher and eventually becomes the coach of the varsity field hockey team. After working in these dual roles for several years, Ms. W meets Candace, an exceptional field hockey player who also happens to be in Ms. W's English class. While Candace is an excellent athlete and is being recruited by several major universities, she struggles academically. Ms. W realizes that without better grades Candace will be unable to receive a scholarship to play field hockey. Ms. W offers to tutor the student after field hockey practice each evening and to drive the student home from school after their work together. Ms. W hopes that with the right support, Candace may be able to have a more memorable collegiate athletic career than she had herself. Besides this academic support, Ms. W also begins training with Candace on the weekends to help prepare her physically for the demands of collegiate sports. Candace's parents become suspicious of Ms. W's intentions when the two plan a private weekend trip to attend the national field hockey tournament. The parents contact Ms. W's principal.

While these cases are fictional, real cases that have been adjudicated by the Pennsylvania Standards and Practices Commission can be accessed by visiting the PSPC site.