Sikeston teacher's arrest puts spotlight on electronic communication

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Andrew Delles

The arrest of a Sikeston Junior High School teacher comes on the heels of a March 1 deadline that required Missouri schools to formulate policies to protect students in electronic communication with teachers.

The teacher, Andrew Delles, 28, of Jackson, faces felony charges for sexual misconduct after he allegedly touched a 14-year-old student earlier this month. He is also charged with enticement of a child for allegedly texting explicit photographs of himself to the same student.

The incident sounds similar to the many Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, has heard of and hoped to prevent with legislation mandating school districts in Missouri regulate electronic communication between school staff and students.

A version of Cunningham's original legislation, Senate Bill 1, required all school districts in the state to have a policy on electronic communication in place by March 1. Districts have complied, with many following examples provided by the Missouri School Boards Association's policy recommendation service. The policies, including one put into place by the Sikeston School District, are written to prevent private electronic communication between staff and students for any reason other than school-related purposes. Most policies also require parental notification for private communication via texting, email or social media using personal phones or electronic accounts.

Many of the new policies implemented by districts, including Sikeston's, require staff to use only devices, accounts and other forms of electronic communication provided by the district for communication with students. Those communications can be monitored. An exception to the rule can be made by first obtaining supervisor approval for communication deemed necessary or beneficial, if a district-approved method is not available and if the communication is related to a class or activity. Parents must also be notified of the approval. Those communications may also be monitored, and staff are required to provide their supervisors with all education-related communications with students by request.

Staff can be disciplined up to and including termination. If circumstances call for further action deemed necessary by the district, the staff member may be reported to law enforcement and the Children's Division of Social Services for further investigation. The district may also seek revocation of a staff member's license from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Cunningham worries that allowing any communication with personal electronic devices may cause problems, she said.

In the many cases she has seen, private communication between school staff and students began in a benign way, she said, especially with use of text messages, and ended up as something more sinister.

"The messages will start very innocently as what you would term appropriate communication," she said. "Then it just kind of develops because it's hidden."

Sikeston Department of Public Safety spokesman Jim McMillen and the detective working on the case that led to charges over alleged texting with a student last week did not return calls Tuesday to confirm if they were aware how the student and the teacher began making contact using cellphones.

A probable-cause statement released by the Scott County Prosecuting Attorney's Office stated two pictures of an adult male determined by police to be Delles and separate photos of the student were located on the student's phone by Det. John Blakely after he was given parental permission for the phone to be searched. The document also said photos had been exchanged between Delles and the student. Police searched Delles' home following his arrest and found evidence related to the case, according to the statement.

Blakely wrote in the statement that Delles indicated the pictures the student had must have come from an adult Web page he posted them on.

Delles is charged with three counts of enticement of a child and three counts of sexual misconduct. He was located and arrested by police Thursday after being placed on suspension by the school district.

Delles posted bond Friday and was ordered to appear before Judge Scott Horman for an arraignment at 9 a.m. April 24 at the Scott County Courthouse.

Sikeston superintendent Steve Borgsmiller said Delles, a communication arts teacher who has been employed by the district for five years, will remain on paid administrative leave during court proceedings.

Borgsmiller said the district handled the issue in accordance with all district policies relating to staff conduct. Allegations from parents prompted Delles' suspension, he said. The allegations did not come from the parents of the student who was allegedly sending to and receiving texts from Delles, Borgsmiller said.

He also could not confirm how and when the student and Delles allegedly began their communication through text messaging, but said the district staff has been made aware of the new policies on electronic communication and that any and all of that type of communication is set up to be monitored by administration through a district computer system. However, the extent of what allegedly occurred went above and beyond violations of the electronic communication policy, Borgsmiller said.

"What the Senate bill did was gave additional detail to existing policies," he said. "This alleged incident is something that is simply not acceptable under it or any other district policy."

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

200 S. Pine St., Sikeston, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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