BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The Alabama Department of Education is tracking the number of investigations they've conducted of inappropriate sexual relationships between students
As of March 22, that number was 10. That number may not include investigations that occurred in last two to three weeks.
Between 2014-2015, the Department of Education investigated nearly 100 cases.
Terry Abbott, a former Education Chief of Staff chairman, who is now a chairman of Drive West Communications, has been tracking these cases nationwide.
Abbott calls it an epidemic, and said Alabama is ground zero for the problem.
In, 2013 the state investigated 35 cases. In 2012, that number was slightly lower at 27. In 2011, the number was 25.
"We can't pretend this isn't a problem anymore. In some ways when you look at the rate of these cases per population, Alabama is the epicenter of that problem. Too many districts in Alabama and elsewhere have no policy prohibiting secret electronic communication between teachers and students. That's a highway to hell," said Abbot.
A survey from 2014 conducted by Abbott's firm revealed that 40 percent of the cases nationwide involved secret communications from teachers to students.
Abbott said "classroom predators" are using social media as a tool to lure students into illegal relationships. He said teachers who are women are more likely than men to do this.
"Very often the teachers involved in these cases pick on students who they know have problems at home or who have physiological issues that they are dealing with. They know these children are, frankly, easy prey," Abbott continued.
From August through October of 2015, Abbott's firmed tracked 253 cases of illegal student and school employee relationships. Of that number, 76 were school coaches.
"If I was advising a school district on how to stop this problem, the first thing I would tell them is to go see your coaches because that's where the biggest group of these cases come from. Coaches are the probably the folks who spend the most time with kids outside of the classroom," Abbott says.
State Senator Cam Ward sponsored the Educator-Student Interaction Training Act that went through Alabama's Senate Education Policy Committee.
It would have required teachers to undergo an annual hour-long training course on how to not to engage in illegal relationships with students.
Community backlash forced Ward to not move forward with the bill, but Abbott supported the idea and said the state missed a valuable opportunity to learn.
Teachers who are convicted of illegal sexual relationships with students automatically lose their teacher certification.
In a statement from the State Department of Education, Public Information Manager Malissa Valdes-Hubert said the department of education is working hard to make Alabama classrooms safer.
"Our local superintendents and their staff members do a thorough job of reporting incidents of misconduct in a timely manner if they do occur. This allows us to act swiftly to pursue action against educator credentials when required," Valdes-Hubert said.
Valdes-Hubert also pointed out that in the last two years, steps have been taken to further enforce existing laws and regulations.