The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will ask state lawmakers to fund nearly $400,000 in their 2018-19 academic budget to combat teacher-student sexual misconduct cases.
The problem of educators crossing the line and betraying the public trust with its most precious resource, children, has soared over the past eight years. Last year, the TEA investigated a record-breaking 222 cases. This reflected an 80 percent increase in cases compared to the 2008-09 school year when the agency opened 123. In 2009-10, they reported 141 cases; in 2010-11, 152 cases; 2011-12, 156 cases; 2012-13, 163; 2013-14, 179; and 2014-15, 188.
The 2014-15 spike was so troubling that Lt. Governor Dan Patrick charged the Texas Senate Education Committee with the task of examining these improper relationships and assess the role social media played in fostering these incidences, to seek policy solutions to present at the 85th Legislature in 2017.
Although the proliferation of social media and texting as classroom tools get blamed for the increase in teacher-student sexual misconduct cases, the problem may run deeper. Dr. Ernest Zarra, III, author of “Teacher-Student Relationships: Crossing into the Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Realms,” says it reflects a breakdown in society’s moral fiber exacerbated by blurred boundaries between adults and students in an Internet age where underlying psychological factors often influence why some adults form inappropriate bonds with students.
The TEA submitted its 2018-19 legislative appropriations in August. They asked for $391,134 and three full-time employees (FTE), two investigators and one administrator. They explained:
“For the past decade, there has been a steady increase in the number of inappropriate educator-student relationships reported to the Agency. When these cases are reported, the Agency investigates them as quickly and as efficiently as possible to ensure the safety of Texas children. In cases where inappropriate behavior is discovered, the Agency conducts an investigation to determine an appropriate sanction (if any) against the educator’s certification, which may include revocation. As the caseload has increased, the number of investigators has remained the same over the past several years. This request will allow for the more efficient and timely investigation of these types of cases. It should be noted, however, that the Agency does not currently have authority to investigate or sanction non-certified educators, an issue that is worthy of consideration during the upcoming Legislative Session.”
TEA Director of Educator Investigations Doug Phillips told the Texas Tribune: “Needless to say, if we had two more investigators, we would be able to spread those cases out more and we would be able to get to those cases a little faster.” He said: “I have every reason to believe that that case number will continue to increase.”
Breitbart Texas reported Phillips voiced concerns that many cases go unreported or schools strike secret deals with offending educators, squelching information. He told the Tribune some superintendents handle the matter by not renewing a questionable teacher or coach’s contract. “It’s cheaper to non-renew a person or to let them just leave on their own than it is to terminate them for districts,” Phillips said, noting legal costs mount when employees fight contract terminations.
He has also pointed out the difficulties in prosecuting these cases because of the way the law is written. Breitbart Texas reported:
“Texas Penal Code 21.12 considers improper relationships a second degree felony that can result in 2-20 years in prison. Phillips pointed out not all improper relationship cases are considered crimes. For example, a teacher-student sexual relationship where the student attends a different school district than where the teacher is employed, when sexual contact cannot be proven, and if there is no sexual contact but where the adult initiates the solicitation of a romantic relationship (Texas Administrative Code 249.3).”
TEA investigations can end with the State Board of Educator Certification (SBEC) issuing a punishment as light as a reprimand to suspension, license surrender/revocation, or prison. Cases are sometimes closed because of lack of proof. Although the SBEC can sanction educators for improper relationships with students, those who avoid conviction can, theoretically, keep their teacher certifications.
Buck Gilcrease, chair of the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) and a Houston-area school district superintendent, asserted the laws necessary to crack down on inappropriate relationships are “already on the books,” according to the Texas Tribune.
“I think most school districts and most employers of people where this happens have offered sufficient training,” he said. “I personally feel it comes down to terrible, immoral actions done by those people.”
Last year, TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe told Breitbart Texas, “The vast majority of our teachers are working in an ethical and moral manner each and every day.” She stated, “Parents expect their children to be safe when they are at school. Maintaining a safe environment is one of our highest priorities.”
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