By Kathi Bliss
I know the students and staff at Lockhart High School. Many, I know very well. Some, I know only tangentially, and others, I recognize by name, face or jersey number. But most of them, I know. More than that, I like to think that I know the culture at Lockhart High School. I know the attitude that the administrators and teachers try to cultivate, and I know how a lot of those students work to cultivate that culture. At least, I thought I did.
So it’s hard for me to understand the discussion that we, as a community, are having this week. It doesn’t make sense to me, on a whole lot of levels. And quite frankly, it makes me question everything I thought I knew, because it’s a conversation that we’ve had far too many times here lately.
Now, I’ll grant you, I’m an advocate of the “innocent until proven guilty,” dogma, and I’m certainly not saying that I know the facts of the case, here. The only thing I know for sure is that there was an allegation, an investigation and an arrest, and now, this thing, whatever it was, is front and center in our collective consciousness.
That makes me terribly uncomfortable.
A portion of what I report on begins with gossip. It often starts with a social media post, a text about something that someone heard; it starts with a question, asked repeatedly or well, that begs an answer. It is the job of a journalist to then research, collect facts, and present a wider narrative. In cases like this, that’s difficult to do, because so much of the facts remain by necessity under wraps, pending the outcome of any investigations, prosecutions or other actions. And sadly, that leaves the community at large in the attempting to fill in the blanks by any means necessary.
What’s important to remember, though, is that we were not party to the interactions between this teacher and this student. We don’t know. We can’t know, because we weren’t there, and we shouldn’t speculate, because it won’t help anything. All speculation can serve to do, in a situation like this, is make it worse on us, as a community.
It’s a terrible thing, to think that a teacher would treat what should be a sacred relationship, between a teacher and a student, so casually. Instinctively, we hear stories like this, and immediately begin to demonize. I think that’s natural, but I don’t necessarily know if it’s a good idea.
Is it absolutely wrong for a teacher and a student to have any kind of romantic contact? Absolutely. Is it appropriate for that to be treated as a “firing offense.” You bet. And, is it reasonable for such activity to be treated as a crime? Of course it is.
However, we all also know that interactions with teenagers can be complicated. We know, some from personal experience and others from anecdotal testimony, that some teenagers can, from time to time, embellish facts a little bit. They are also savvy enough to know exactly what to do to create retribution for a perceived slight. Ask any parent who’s ever had their kid call CPS and report abuse, because they got grounded. This happens, and we know it.
Put the tar and feathers away, because I’m not saying that’s what happened here. I’m not saying anything of the kind, and because I’m not directly involved in the investigation, I have no way of knowing what happened, how it started, or how it came to be headline news. Most of us, frankly, don’t have a clue. So, we as a community should be doing the responsible thing, and letting it play out through law enforcement and the courts. Should she be found guilty of committing a crime, that should be by a court of law, not a court of public opinion.
The student? His privacy should be protected. Willing participant or otherwise, the fact of the matter is that he is a child – a minor, above the legal age of sexual consent in the State of Texas, but a child nonetheless; it should never be fair game for grown-ups to gossip about kids. Not ever.
Of course, we should talk about it. I’m glad that the District was forthcoming, and that they have been communicative and transparent, insofar as they can, as to what’s happened and what will happen next. I appreciate that about them. But really, isn’t that all there is to say?
We know something happened. We aren’t sure what it was. But we also know that there have been repeated instances of teachers and students being involved in inappropriate relationships in our District. That is the conversation we need to be having. We need to talk about the fact that it happens, and we need to know that our teachers, and our students, know the right decisions to make, if they find themselves aware of such a situation.
But that can be a broad-spectrum conversation. It doesn’t have to be case specific, and I don’t know that it should ever be “name-specific.” We can have the conversation, just as effectively (if not moreso), in general terms.
Of course, I have to follow this story where it leads, and write about what I find. That’s what’s expected of me, in the context of my profession. What I don’t have to do, however, is speculate, gossip, or name names of the kid or kids who, realistically, willing participants or not, are crime victims. And to be perfectly honest, I hope the rest of you decide that you don’t have to do that, either.