More Utah teachers are getting caught and sanctioned for downloading pornography or viewing inappropriate websites using school computers, on school grounds or while classes are in session, an analysis by The Salt Lake Tribune shows.
As education leaders debate new rules for regulating teacher misconduct, opinions differ on whether viewing of pornography should be treated as a potential precursor to sexual activity involving students.
"It may not be. There is no black and white that every case is the same," said Kim Burningham, a veteran teacher from Bountiful, former state legislator and longtime Utah Board of Education member.
At least 57 Utah educators have been suspended from teaching or had their licensed revoked for downloading porn or accessing sexually oriented websites, according to a Tribune review of nearly 400 teacher misconduct cases dating back to 1993. Porn cases account for a larger share of teacher-licensing sanctions than they did before 2007, analysis shows. The upward trend has coincided with the spread of wireless Web access in Utah schools.
Materials accessed range from "partially nude Hollywood actresses to really raunchy sexual pictures," according to an update sent to teachers last spring. Most cases are easily detected by school network administrators, investigators said.
Jordan School District had the most porn cases, with 8 between 2001 and 2012, and the next highest district, Alpine, had 5. Salt Lake district only saw one.
Even private viewing of inappropriate sites on school property is a violation of state law. And while a majority of the porn cases that led to state licensing actions did not affect students directly, effects can be subtle.
One teacher told licensing authorities that viewing adult materials led him to lose interest in preparing lesson plans and grading papers. "His patience was shorter with his students,'' investigators wrote. "He explained that his trigger for viewing inappropriate materials was boredom.''
Roy resident Shane Micah Turner, 32, was among 72 people charged in 2011 for allegedly trading thousands of images depicting children being sexually abused. He held a Utah teaching license but state investigators turned up no evidence he ever worked in a public school.
A federal judge since has sentenced Turner to more than 17 years in prison. Turner's teaching certificate, obtained from Weber State University, was yanked shortly after his arrest.