Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law Thursday that crack downs on the vexing epidemic of sexual misconduct by the state’s teachers with students.
“Unfortunately, a small number of teachers are tarnishing the image of some of our best and brightest teachers,” said Abbott at a signing ceremony in the State Capitol building flanked by several key legislators, notably Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who authored this piece of legislation, Senate Bill 7, and has called the eight-plus year upward surge in these improper teacher-student relationships a statewide plague.
“Texas has racked up a dubious ranking, a ranking that has an incredibly high number of inappropriate teacher-student relationships,” added Abbott. “Today, by signing this law, we’re saying no more are we going to allow that to happen.”
Abbott continued onto say that under S.B. 7 Texas is “going to impose real and stiff consequences for any teacher who dares to have an inappropriate relationship with one of his or her students.”
The Governor expressed dismay that “unbelievably” some of these purported teacher sex offenders against whom accusations are made and cases even proven “have faced no real consequences.”
This law 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 may also result in jail time. S.B. 7 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.
S.B. 7 also 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, which, until now, was not an offense. While the law does not not name a particular curriculum, it requires that teachers attend an ongoing percentage of professional development classes to ensure they maintain “appropriate relationships, boundaries, and communications between educators and students.”
Abbott concluded: “I am proud to sign S.B. 7 to restore the trust that should exist between teachers and students, and also between parents and teachers to ensure that our schools remain a place where a child can go into that school with excitement to explore, to learn and to advance.”
Breitbart Texas reported that, since 2008, the number of these cases opened by the Educator Investigations Unit of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) jumped 80 percent to an alarming all time high of 222 reported incidences in the 2015-16 school year. So startling the numbers, the TEA asked state lawmakers to fund nearly $400,000 in their 2018-19 academic budget for hiring two investigators and one administrator to better tackle the problem. The agency opened 159 new cases between September 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017; they estimated a 65 percent increase in these improper teacher-student sexual interludes statewide from April 2015 to April 2017.
At the signing ceremony, Abbott thanked Bettencourt for his leadership. Also present were Education Commissioner Mike Morath; Representative Tony Dale (R-Round Rock), who authored companion House legislation plus two adopted S.B. 7 amendments; and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who named this issue one of his top 10 legislative priorities for the state’s 85th Legislature. During the interim session, Patrick charged Senate Education Committee members with developing policy solutions for this troubling problem. Representative Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) attended in the place of the bill’s House sponsor Ken King (R-Canadian).
S.B. 7 has been among the few education related bills both chambers agreed upon, passing unanimously through the Senate and the House.
Following the signing ceremony, Bettencourt commented, “It is very clear that the scourge of teachers preying on students for sexual relationships will not be tolerated.”
He thanked Abbott for signing the bill and Patrick plus his fellow legislators for their full support. “It’s time for inappropriate teacher-student relationships to be stamped out.”
This law goes into effect on September 1.
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