Teacher Who Had Kids Send Letters to Boyfriend in Prison Crossed a Line

writingLet me throw a few words at you. Sexting. Cyberbullying. Internet porn. If all that digital doom and gloom has you yearning for the days of good old-fashioned pen and paper, you are not alone. And now for the bad news. The tale of a New York City teacher who forced her her fifth graders to make handmade Christmas cards for her boyfriend, who just so happened to be an inmate at a prison in upstate New York is highlighting a major safety snafu!

Snail mail's not going to keep your kids safe either. At least not if they're the curious type who are signing on for the decades old tradition of "pen pals."

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What Melissa Dean did with her kids was creepy and wrong. She violated their trust when she put their information in the hands of a convicted criminal! The boyfriend had child porn convictions no less! I don't blame the parents who are calling for her head on a platter one bit. She claimed it was a "nice gesture," but it sounds more like a giant safety risk.

But before you write it off as one loony tune teacher, let's talk about what NORMAL teachers do with kids right around this age -- because parents outside of this one NYC school should be concerned too. Signing them up for a pen pal program is considered a great way to broaden kids' horizons. They practice writing, they brush up on geography, they improve their social skills. The positives go on and on and on. 

I know. I did it. I was one of those kids who loved to write (gee, can you tell?), and I had countless "friendships" with kids from around the world. All of them fizzled out when I was in high school, but it was fun while it lasted. What wasn't fun were the letters that would suddenly show up in my mailbox from convicts who had seen my name on a list of kids looking for pen pals. I never wrote back, and after I got a few, I more or less gave up on the whole pursuit much to my parents' relief.

And it seems that this is even bigger business today than it was back when I was a kid. Just Google "pen pal," and a site for writing to prisoners comes up right on the first page of results. Looks like the digital age has made even old-fashioned practices extra risky for kids.

Do your kids have pen pals yet? How do you ensure they're safe?

 

Image via Dapur Solia/Flickr

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