Latest case highlights faults in pending improper teacher relationship legislation
AUSTIN, Texas —
A former Round Rock ISD employee accused of having relationships with three students is not a certified educator, and some say legislation meant to combat inappropriate teacher-student relationships doesn't do enough when it comes those who aren't certified.
22-year old Tyrell Lee Vanwinkle is charged with sexual assault of a child and two counts of possession of child pornography.
Police say he had sex with one student in the school parking lot outside of school hours and that they found pornographic photographs of some of the students he allegedly had relationships with on his phone.
Vanwinkle was a temporary employee at Stony Point High School from February 2016 to May 2, 2017. A letter sent to parents informed them he was a temporary worker involved in speech, drama and debate programs periodically after school hours.
According to Round Rock ISD and the Texas Education Agency, Vanwinkle was not a certified educator. That means that under current law, the state has no way to sanction him for inappropriate relationships or make sure he never works at a school again.
"They don't have any jurisdiction over someone that's not certified," says Kate Cuhlmann with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
Senate Bill 7 has passed the Texas House and Senate and was sent to the Governor Greg Abbott's desk on Tuesday. Among other things, it would give the State Board of Educator Certification the power to keep non-certified teachers who have inappropriate relationships with students from getting a job at another school.
But Cuhlmann says she's only partially satisfied that the need to sanction non-certified educators is addressed.
"The part of preventative training and ongoing training is not, because that is all tied to a certification," says Cuhlmann.
She still wants anyone who works in the classroom with children to be certified and have intense training regarding appropriate relationships and behaviors.
"It is concerning that we're having to write all these other loopholes into the law, simply because we're not hiring certified educators in the first place," Cuhlmann said.
While she says the bill isn't perfect, she is relieved the it would require school districts to enact an electronic communication policy that would impact both certified and non-certified educators.
Stony Point High School sent the following letter to parents regarding Vanwinkle's arrest:
Safety is the top priority of Stony Point High School and Round Rock ISD. Ensuring a safe and secure learning environment requires partnership between students, parents, employees, as well as our public safety partners.
To keep parents informed, Round Rock ISD is sharing the following information about an incident at your student’s campus.
On May 17, the Round Rock Police Department (RRPD) arrested a former temporary worker from the Stony Point Speech, Drama, and Debate program on charges related to alleged inappropriate relationships with students. His service was limited to working with the Speech, Drama, and Debate programs periodically after school hours at Stony Point High School.
Round Rock ISD immediately removed the temporary worker from school upon notification of suspicious conduct and terminated his employment after an internal investigation. Upon identifying the actions as possibly criminal, the District contacted and supported RRPD in their investigation. In accordance with procedure for all employees and professionals working in the RRISD, he passed a background check from Texas Department of Public Safety before starting his work.
As a reminder, RRISD encourages anyone who has information of possible wrongdoing or inappropriate behavior to immediately contact a campus administrator, utilize the RRISD Anonymous Alerts program, or contact law enforcement.
The Anonymous Alerts program allows students or parents to submit safety concerns quickly to school officials for prompt intervention. . All messages submitted remain completely anonymous. Please visit roundrockisd.org/anonymousalerts/ for more details.
Members of the Round Rock ISD community can also anonymously report incidents through the following Lighthouse Services phone numbers: 1-800-398-1496 (English) and 1-800-216-1288 (Spanish).