A junior high school teacher turned herself in to the Palestine Police Department shortly after 2 p.m. Thursday, following allegations that she engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a female high-school student.
Palestine Junior High School basketball coach Lauren Stewart, 25, was arrested on the charge of improper relationship between an educator and a student, and transported to Anderson County Jail. Bail has not yet been set.
Allegations of a relationship between Stewart and the student were reported to the Palestine Independent School District earlier this week. Officials immediately began an investigation, with the help of the Palestine Police Department.
Numerous text messages were among the evidence discovered this week of an inappropriate teacher/student relationship.
The identity of the student has not been disclosed.
Stewart remains on suspension; the termination process will begin by Friday, PISD spokesperson Larissa Loveless said.
Stewart is the daughter of PISD Safety Coordinator William Stewart.
PISD provides its staff with continuing training in regards to appropriate behavior with students, Loveless said. Private texts between teachers and students, she added, are strictly forbidden.
“We encourage teachers to use the 'Remind' app,” Loveless said. “It keeps messaging completely transparent.”
PISD officials encourage parents to check students' text and social media accounts on a regular basis. If anything inappropriate is found, Loveless said, parents should contact the child's principal immediately.
Because of the incident, PISD officials will be providing additional staff training on student communication and relationships. The district has a zero-tolerance policy for staff members who participate in inappropriate relationships with students, Loveless said.
“Students should be free from the situations when they are at school,” she said. “Situations like these hurt many people...[they] destroy the faith our community has in its teachers, and are a major disservice to the many outstanding professional educators we have in our district.”
One year ago, on Jan. 30, 2018, the Herald-Press reported on another allegation of inappropriate teacher/student relationship. The paper was informed of the relationship through an email from a PHS student.
“Palestine ISD has disciplined staff members in the past for this type of behavior,” Loveless said. “We will continue to do so in the future.”
In the 2018 case, Samantha Woolverton, a teacher at PHS, was accused of having a sexual relationship with a student. Woolverton, however, has not yet been indicted.
When the Herald-Press reported the incident, Palestine Police Chief Andy Harvey said he had not been informed of the allegations.
“We have to be involved,” Harvey said at the time of the incident. “This is too serious for us not to be involved from the beginning.”
In the most recent incident, Loveless said, Palestine Police were involved from the beginning.
All suspects are to be considered innocent until proven guilty.