March 21, 2007, 12:18AM
Teacher under investigation after being found with teen
By SARAH VIREN
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
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Until this week, "Miss Ryman" was known as the cool teacher at Bellaire High School.
But Sunday, law enforcement officers say, they found Tamara Ryman, 37, in a parked van with her former 16-year-old student, in a compromising situation: According to police reports, when the deputy approached the car, the boy had his pants down, and Ryman had just jumped into the driver's seat.
The math teacher has only been charged with trespassing -- she and the boy were parked near a vacant house -- but Houston police say their juvenile department continues to investigate the case.
Ryman was moved to an off-campus desk job pending an internal investigation, said Houston Independent School District spokesman Terry Abbott.
In the hallways of the high school, the "cool teacher," who taught algebra and pre-calculus, has suddenly become the topic of more than just math.
"Even the debate class debated over it," said Joseph Tidline, 17, a former student of Ryman's. "You might find 15 different stories about what did happen."
Ryman appears to have been an informal, if not legal, guardian for the teenage boy, who was in one of her classes last school year and played on the football team, but left the school in recent months, classmates said.
He was also arrested Sunday night; police said they found brass knuckles and marijuana on him in the van.
Some students said Ryman talked about the teen in class, and even told them she had adopted him.
Second incident in weeks
Estella Olguin, a spokeswoman for Harris County Child Protective Services, said her agency investigated the boy's biological parents for abuse in the past, but did not know Ryman was acting as his guardian.
That agency planned to interview the teen Tuesday at the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center.
The incident marks the second time in recent weeks that a female teacher has been caught in a car in a compromising position with a male student.
On March 3, another math teacher, this time in Katy, was arrested after police said they found her in a car with an eighth-grade student.
Emily Willis, who taught at T.H. McDonald Junior High, was put on administrative leave without pay after being charged with sexual assault of a child, Katy school district officials said.
News reports on such crimes -- female teachers involved sexually with male students -- have become increasingly common.
The Harris County Child Abuse Task Force plans to hold a seminar next month on female sexual offenders partly because of this, said organizer Amy Smith.
"We realized there is a lot of misinformation out there about female sex offenders and teachers in general," said Smith. "People really don't know a lot about the topic and don't know how to address the issue when talking to kids."
But Smith said she is not sure women are really preying on students more, or if the media just might be reporting more crimes.
Other experts contend that law enforcement has only begun aggressively enforcing sexual assault laws against women in recent years. According to a Houston Chronicle analysis last year, there have been 267 registered sex crimes in Texas the past 10 years involving older women and teenage boys. The number of such crimes prosecuted has remained relatively steady over that time period.
At Bellaire, many students said Tuesday they have a hard time seeing Ryman as anything other than their upbeat teacher, who made math fun and put in extra time to tutor students.
"I don't think she had sexual relations with that boy," Tidline said. "She was straight and narrow, had a rule-abiding personality."
Jared Wilson, an 18-year-old football player, said he had a hard time believing it too. Ryman came to support the team most games, he said, and she had young children of her own.
He added, "I don't know her personality. There is in-school personality and there is out-of-school personality."
Ryman didn't return calls Tuesday for comment.
State could investigate
Even if charges aren't filed, the state could investigate and possibly suspend or revoke her teaching license. Olguin said her agency will refer its findings to the Texas Education Agency and HISD.
Ryman came to HISD in 1998 and started teaching math at Westbury High School, then moved to Bellaire in 2001, where this year she was awarded a $2,000 merit bonus for helping to boost student test scores. Before that, she worked for the Austin school district. She started teaching in 1994 at Hearn ISD in Robertson County, records show.[email protected] http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/4648220.html