Monday marked the first day for Texas lawmakers to pre-file bills for the upcoming 2017 legislative session. Among the many proposals submitted was one which intends to combat the growing problem of teacher-student sexual misconduct.
State Representative Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) filed House Bill 218 to close loopholes and stiffen prosecution measures when educators engage improperly with students. Working with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), Dale sought legislation that expands liability to include when educators cross the line with students in districts other than their own. The bill would require principals, superintendents, and directors to report inappropriate relationships to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) or else they, too, would face criminal charges.
“Our students and parents have a valid expectation that they will be educated in a safe environment. The increasing problem of inappropriate teacher-student relationships endangers our students and damages the confidence in our educational system,” said Dale in a press release.
Breitbart Texas reports extensively on the overwhelming number of educators who violate the students they are entrusted to protect. In September, the TEA released startling figures: 222 educator-student sexual misconduct cases in 2015-16, an all time high over eight consecutive years of tracking these reported incidences. The agency asked state lawmakers to fund nearly $400,000 into their 2018-19 academic budget to hire two new investigators and one administrator to better tackle the problem.
In 2015, the number of cases escalated from the previous year and was so troubling that Lt. Governor Dan Patrick charged the Texas Senate Education Committee with the interim session task of formulating policy recommendations for the 85th Legislature which begins on January 10, 2017.
In 2016, Texas scored favorably in a USA Today study on how well states track teacher sexual misconduct, but HB 218 promises to shore up the daunting reality that when caught some teachers resign, move, and get hired in other districts while their personnel files do not always disclose their misdeeds.
“The era of allowing people who have inappropriate contact or communication with students to move from school district to school district without consequence must end,” added Dale.
HB 218 intends to increase penalties and expand investigative subpoena power when probing into alleged sexual misconduct cases. Also, the bill would revoke an educator’s certificate to teach if designated as a registered sex offender and require school districts to adopt continuing education for teachers on appropriate educator-student relationships, boundaries, and communications. This summer, expert Dr. Ernest Zarra III, who developed such teacher training, told Breitbart Texas schools must lay down clear policies and teach their educators about healthy relationships.
“This bill seeks to allow Texas the tools we need to get rid of teachers who prey on our children. It is time that we fully address this issue and make sure that educators who have inappropriate relations with students not be allowed to teach again,” Dale said. “Our students deserve better.”
Also Monday, the Lt. Governor released his top 10 legislative priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Inappropriate Teacher-Student Relationships placed seventh on the list while another education objective, School Choice, ranked third.
Other pre-filed education related bills included:
Senate Bill 25 from Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), which seeks to expand half-day pre-Kindergarten for qualifying three-year-olds and create universal pre-K for all four-year-olds. In 2015, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law his emergency pre-K legislation HB 4 to mixed reviews. Proponents complained it did not go far enough while opponents worried it would morph into state-mandated, taxpayer funded full-day programs.
Senate Bill 179, also known as “David’s Law,” intends to curb cyberbullying by criminalizing the act. Senator Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) submitted the bill which honors the memory of David Molak, a 16-year-old who committed suicide in January following months of online harassment. SB 179 would require school districts to create cyberbullying policies, develop systems to anonymously report incidences, and allow law enforcement the means to unmask these anonymous online perpetrators. Representative Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) filed a companion bill in the state House.
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