iStock.com/egon69In the sort of news that has parents everywhere in sheer panic mode, a Tennesee health sciences teacher has been arrested a month after police say he kidnapped one of his students and dragged her across the country. Police allege 50-year-old Tad Cummins took a 15-year-old girl from her hometown in Tennessee in March and drove her all the way to California, where he was caught hiding out in a remote cabin this week.
The girl is now safe -- thanks to an eagle-eyed Good Samaritan who called in a vehicle that matched a description on the Amber Alert -- and Cummins is behind bars, charged with aggravated kidnapping, sexual contact with a minor, and taking a minor across state lines to have sex (the latter is a federal charge).
If you're wondering how a high school teacher turns into an alleged kidnapper and keeps a child captive for more than a month, you're not alone. Officials at Culleoka Unit School in Maury County, Tennessee, are under a lot of scrutiny right now over how they handled a student's allegation that he or she saw Cummins kissing the girl.
According to reports, Cummins and the teenager both denied the allegation, and Cummins kept his job -- although with reprimand and a recommendation that the student be removed from his class -- for another two weeks. This is despite reports that he admitted the girl was "a really good friend and she does leave her other classes to come see him when she needs someone to calm her down."
It's hard to say from the outside whether or not the school's actions were appropriate. It would be surprising if they don't end up in court over how it all went down.
But the whole case does bring up a fraught question about what should be considered appropriate between teacher and student. Kidnapping and carrying her across the country? Of course not. But friendship?
It seems that was okay enough for this teacher to retain his job -- at least for several weeks.
As parents, we want our kids to be able to turn to their teachers, to trust them and to feel like their teachers have their back. Kids spend much of their waking hours inside schools. If they can't turn to a trusted teacher when they're struggling, that could leave them feeling isolated.
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And yet, teachers aren't just typically older than students (although the age gaps are smaller with high school students and teachers who are new to the job); they're also in a position of authority over kids. Any so-called friendship that springs up is going to be uneven, putting kids at a disadvantage.
If a teacher is calling a kid his or her friend, it may be a harmless usage of the term. But at the very least, it's a red flag that bears deeper investigation. Teachers should be teachers, not friends.