Alberta school employee charged with luring, exploitation by cellphone

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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, but said they were young teens.
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 and collecting electronic records.
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, Alta., 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, a rural community south of Calgary. The school has about 350 students in grades 7 to 12.
A review is conducted every time allegations of misconduct are made, the division said.
"The safety of students is paramount to Foothills School Division and we are very satisfied with both the intensive RCMP investigation into this matter and subsequent follow through," superintendent of schools Jim McLellan said in a statement.
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.
It's becoming more common for cellphone communication to be involved in criminal cases, Webb added.
"Communication comes in so many different ways, either in person or through electronic devices, 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."
Many parents may know to monitor computer use by their children but not realize that cellphones, especially those with the ability to connect to the Internet, can be just as unsafe.
"Parents should be very aware of what their children have on their cellphones and who they're in contact with," Webb said.
"It's impossible for anyone from the schools or the police or any other agency to monitor appropriateness and so that is the role of the parent to be ensuring that their children are safe."
Noni Classen, director of education with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said kids are wired 24-7 and can move effortlessly between their computers and cellphones.
"What parents need to understand is this is a way for kids to be communicating with other individuals and if they are given this phone to use that there has to be boundaries established and expectations established with them receiving the phone and being able to use the phone."
Parents shouldn't be put off by kids who are horrified at the invasion of what they see as their right to privacy, she said.
A parent would never let a child just walk out of their home without asking where they were going and when they'd be back, she said. They also have a right to ask who their child is talking to and how they know them.
"These things are the responsibility of the parent because it does fit under their protecting and monitoring of their children to help them avoid dangerous situations."

Organizations: Alberta school, RCMP, Foothills School Division Oilfields High School Canadian Centre

Geographic location: CALGARY, Southern Alberta, Black Diamond

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