Texas Teacher-Student Sex Bill Empowers Principals to Report Wrongdoing

Another Texas lawmaker pre-filed a bill intended to halt rampant teacher-student sexual misconduct plaguing the state’s schools.

So pervasive are these incidences that the issue landed on Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s top 10 priorities for next Austin-held legislative session starting on January 10, 2017.

State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) filed Senate Bill 7 on Friday, seeking to remedy the widespread problem. The bill, which applies to public and private schools, upgrades an educator’s sexual impropriety conviction to a criminal offense. It mandates the automatic revocation of a teaching credential when an educator receives deferred adjudication for any sexual misconduct or other offense that requires registration as a sex offender.

SB 7 seeks to allow principals, and not just superintendents, to report educators accused of inappropriate relationships with students. It criminalizes their failure to report these misdeeds as a felony punishable by jail. The bill applies to educators engaging in improper relationships with students regardless of whether the student is in the same or different school district. It permits the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to subpoena relevant witnesses.

Bettencourt’s proposed legislation prohibits school districts from allowing educators accused of sexual misconduct with students from getting rehired in other school districts where they often offend again, a practice referred to as “passing the trash.”

“Any inappropriate relationships between teachers and students must be stamped out, period,” said Bettencourt in a press release. “I was shocked to hear in testimony before the Senate Education Committee that in some cases school districts simply quashed subpoenas and ‘passed the trash’ rather than protecting the students in their charge. That is unacceptable.”

In 2015, the number of cases escalated from the previous school year prompting the Lt. Governor to charge the Texas Senate Education Committee with the interim session task of formulating policy recommendations for the upcoming 85th Legislature.

Bettencourt previously authored SB 1222, which granted the TEA to subpoena relevant documents. The senator’s legislation got folded into HB 2205, another educator misconduct law.

SB 7 also requires school districts to enact new continuing education requirements and adopt written policies concerning electronic communications between a school district employee and a student.

“With the prevalence of social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and others, it is easier than ever to communicate,” said Bettencourt. “It is time for everyone involved to stop looking the other way and stamp this problem out.”

A House side bill (HB 218), pre-filed last week by Representative Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park), is similar to SB 7. It expands liability to principals, ensuring they report cases of improper educator sexual behavior or else they will face criminal charges; it increases penalties, and grants investigative subpoena power when probing into alleged sexual misconduct cases. HB 218 revokes an educator’s teaching certificate if the suspect is deemed a registered sex offender, and requires school districts to adopt continuing teacher professional development on appropriate student relationships, boundaries, and communications, Breitbart Texas reported.

These proposed bills follow a record 222 teacher-student sexual misconduct investigations opened in 2015-16 by the TEA, also marking the eighth consecutive year these type of inappropriate relationships skyrocketed in Texas schools. According to Bettencourt’s press release, the TEA opened 49 cases already this school year.

In response to the senator filing SB 7, the Lt. Governor said, in part: “Parents should not have to worry about sexual predators in the classroom. Public school superintendents are already lawfully required to report teachers who are preying on the innocent. This legislation will assure that any superintendent or principal who does not do so is guilty of ‘passing the trash’ and should resign or be fired.”

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