AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Round Rock Independent School District track coach arrested last week on charges of having an inappropriate relationship with a student had resigned from Austin ISD in 2000 after a similar investigation. Christopher Cotten, 41, was a math teacher and coach at Austin High School from 1997 to March 2000, but he resigned after the district learned he was sending inappropriate instant messages to a student. An investigation “did not reveal anything further than the inappropriate exchange of messages,” a statement from Austin ISD said.
The district also pointed out that the Texas Legislature had not passed the inappropriate educator/student relationship statute, which became law in 2003. That law criminalized sexual relationships between educators and students.
Cotten was booked into the Williamson County Jail on Thursday, but has since posted bond. He is charged with indecency with a child by sexual contact, improper relationship between educator and a student and distribution of harmful material to a minor.
A 16-year-old girl, who is a student at McNeil High School, told police Cotten kissed her when he drove her home from practice in March, according to an arrest affidavit. After the physical encounter, the victim said Cotten sent her several texts with inappropriate photos via a third-party texting application.
Round Rock ISD, where Cotten has been employed since 2004, said they were not made aware of these allegations during the hiring process.
“Before being hired in RRISD, he worked in Pflugerville ISD,” a RRISD spokesperson said. “When he was hired, our practice was to contact an applicant’s previous supervisor. Records indicate his references as being his previous middle school principal at PISD and the athletic coordinator at Pflugerville High School. The former head coach at Austin High School was also contacted prior to Cotten’s hiring. There was no mention of any previous incidents according to our records.”
Districts are required by law to notify the Texas Education Agency of misconduct, but the agency says it has no way of going back 15 years to see if it was notified by AISD of the 2000 allegations.
Code of Ethics
The Texas Educators’ Code of Ethics specifically calls on teachers to refrain from inappropriately communicating with students through social media.
The latest numbers from TEA show it investigated 179 allegations of inappropriate relationships last school year.
In comparison, there were 141 cases four years before that during the 2009-2010 school year.
Under the state penal code, a school district employee commits a second-degree felony if he or she engages in sexual contact with a student who is not their spouse, even if a student is 18 years of age.
Former student’s reaction to allegation
While looking at pictures from McNeil High School 10 years ago, Funto Adebo’s first memory is her time on the track team and the man who coached her.
“When I tell you that this is the last educator, coach and adult I ever expected to hear anything like this about, I mean that 100 percent,” said Adebo who ran track at the school. “He was a really awesome coach, great mentor, supported us on and off the field.”
Adebo said her youngest sister is currently a student athlete at McNeil High School and was the last of the four sisters to have Cotten as a coach.
The 25-year-old said she was at her sister’s district meet Thursday night and heard Cotten did not attend because of a family emergency. It wasn’t until the next day she found out what happened.
“The arrest happened on the night of their district track meet, so I think, a lot of us thought, it was some sort of set up or something was off,” said Adebo. “I feel anyone who knows him met him would know it’s so far off the realm of his personality.”
She said her sister and the rest of the team had their first practice without Cotten on Monday.
“They kind of felt lost, didn’t know exactly what to do,” said Adebo. “I think it’s just been tough for them, and we encourage them to stick together as a team, that’s something Coach Cotten always pushed for, maintaining that team from a family aspect, so that’s what we’ve encouraged her to do.”
The former athlete said she’s praying for everyone involved and said if the allegations are true, she doesn’t support her former’s coach actions. Adebo said it is a difficult and sad situation because the coach had a major impact on her life.
KXAN spoke with Adebo before new information surfaced that Cotten had similar allegations from 15 years ago at Austin ISD.