Members of the Texas House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Tuesday to crack down on the state’s epidemic of teacher-student sexual misconduct.
In a vote of 146-to-0, the House approved Senate Bill 7, authored by Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). In March, the bill sailed through the Senate, 31-to-0. It imposes harsh consequences on wayward educators and on the school administrators who ignore the problem.
“Educator misconduct is a statewide plague that has unfortunately been on the rise,” said Bettencourt in a prepared statement following the bill’s passage in the House, adding: “Inappropriate relationships between students and teachers must be stamped out, period.”
Lawmakers hope to end the “plague” ravaging the state’s classrooms through a number of fixes. As Breitbart Texas reported, S.B. 7 mandates the automatic revocation of a teaching license when an educator receives deferred adjudication or must register as a sex offender for this abhorrent behavior. It also holds principals and superintendents to account with fines and jail time when they look the other way and purposely fail to report teacher wanton misdeeds to the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Even an administrator’s unintentional failure to report sexual misconduct results in a $500 fine.
Additionally, S.B. 7 criminalizes when an educator becomes romantically involved with a student under 18 years old, regardless of what school district the teacher works or where a student attends classes. Currently, this is not an offense.
While the bill does not name a particular curriculum, it requires that teachers attend continuing education classes to ensure “appropriate relationships, boundaries, and communications between educators and students.”
On Monday, the House tacked on several new amendments to S.B.7, including one from Representative Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving).
“Crimes against children are an unbearable evil,” said Rinaldi. His amendment calls for revoking a teacher’s pension if convicted of having an improper relationship with a student. In an amendment to this amendment, Representative Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) left it up to a judge’s discretion if the convicted educator’s pension could be released to a spouse.
Representative Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park), who filed the companion H.B. 218 to close loopholes and stiffen prosecution measures for educators who engage improperly with students, authored two amendments. One mandates teacher applicants sign a pre-employment affidavit disclosing whether or not they have ever been charged or convicted of having an inappropriate relationship with a minor. Failure to disclose such information is grounds for termination. The other requires schools to notify parents of any alleged educator misconduct with their child.
From April 2015 to April 2017, TEA data revealed a 65 percent increase in these inappropriate relationships between teachers and students, noted Bettencourt’s office.
Recently, TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson told Breitbart Texas the agency opened 159 cases between September 1, 2016, and March 31, 2017. The 2015-16 school year marked an all-time-high with 222 reported instances of educators romantically and/or sexually involved with the children entrusted to them in classrooms around the state.
By comparison, the TEA opened 123 cases during the entire 2008-09 school year. Each subsequent year, the number of cases rose: 2009-10, 141 cases; 2010-11, 152; 2011-12, 156; 2012-13, 163; and 2013-14, 179. In 2014-15, the TEA accounted for 188 cases which led to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s interim charge for Senate Education Committee members to meet and seek policy solutions, Breitbart Texas reported.
In his 2017 State of the State, Governor Greg Abbott called for legislation that imposed strong consequences on educators who violate the public trust by crossing the line sexually with students and for those school administrators who turn a blind eye to these inappropriate relationships, Breitbart Texas reported.
S.B. 7 now returns to the Senate for concurrence or conference before making its way to Abbott’s desk for signature.
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