CALGARY — A 39-year-old woman who worked at a southern Alberta high school has been charged with sexual exploitation and luring in a case police say centres on a large number of explicit cellphone conversations and text messages with two teenage students.
While the charges were just laid and none of the allegations has been proven in court, police and cyber experts say the case raises an important issue: parents need to vigilant about who their kids are communicating with in an age where smart phones can be found in the pockets of an increasing number of teenagers.
The woman, who was not a teacher, allegedly started extensive cellphone contact with one boy in the fall of 2007 and another in late 2008, RCMP Sgt. Patrick Webb said Tuesday. He wouldn’t give their exact ages.
Rumours and stories soon swirled among fellow students who realized such behaviour was inappropriate and became concerned for the emotional well-being of the two boys, he said.
Staff investigated and then contacted police, who laid charges after interviewing more than 30 people.
Police say neither boy was physically harmed, although there was allegedly physical contact between the woman and one teen.
Tanya Marie Cossette of Black Diamond, is charged with sexual exploitation by a person in a position of trust or authority, luring a child, communicating with a child to obtain a sexual service and drug trafficking.
The Foothills School Division said the allegations involved male students at Oilfields High School in Black Diamond. The school has about 350 students.
A review is conducted every time allegations of misconduct are made, said superintendent of schools Jim McLellan.
“You always want to have a look inwards when this sort of thing happens, but we’re pretty diligent in ensuring that we get good people on our staff and we go through a criminal record check for everyone, we do reference checking,” he said.
Webb wouldn’t specify Cossette’s job, but a Tanya Cossette was listed as a member of the office staff at the high school in a 2007 document posted online.
McLellan said Cossette resigned in June 2009, the same month the allegations came to light, but he refused to comment on whether the two were connected.
Cossette worked at Oilfields for seven years, he said.
It’s becoming more common for cellphone communication to be involved in criminal cases, Webb said.
“Communication comes in so many different ways . . . and as the world progresses and gets more familiar with texting and email and messaging, those are becoming more and more common as being part of the circumstances.”