Ending the silence on teacher-student hook-ups

Robert C. Hawkins

The strongest message sent by Bucks County school officials investigating a teacher’s alleged affair with a 17-year-old student may be the ouster of three fellow teachers said to have kept quiet after learning of the relationship.

Former Council Rock South High School math teacher Robert C. Hawkins, 43, faces criminal charges for child-endangerment and corruption of a minor for the purported five-month affair. Hawkins, fired in May, surrendered to police Tuesday.

But it’s also the apparent failure of Hawkins’ three colleagues – police say there may be more who knew – to sound the alarm that’s troubling. One has resigned and two others have been suspended with the intent of being fired.

What's that? They weren't sneaking around with a teen-ager, so why should they be punished?

Whether or not laws were broken, teacher-student relationships are clearly inappropriate – and, in part, it’s up to a school community as a whole to enforce standards barring such hook-ups. It’s the contention of Council Rock school officials that Hawkins’ colleagues failed the student involved in this case.

If the three teachers were in the know, then they were in the wrong, for sure. That's certainly the view of philly.com readers who took the accompanying poll, voting not quite 9-1 in favor of reporting teacher-student relationships. Various readers also note (comments below) that there are legal mandates on teachers and other school professionals to report. At the same time, other readers relate anecdotes about the supposed prevalence of these relationships in some schools.


Should teachers tell on colleagues having student affairs?

Parents in the well-off Bucks school district have to be wondering how a teacher-student relationship, effectively, could be winked at by any teachers or other professionals. As Bucks County District Attorney Michelle Henry said, “Parents send their children to school for an education, not to be preyed upon by their teachers.”

Council Rock officials are said to be continuing their review, to see if other staff knew of the alleged relationship. That’s the right course, and it should put staff on notice at any school in the region that staying silent in such cases means they themselves risk being flunked out.