For the ninth consecutive year, the number of Texas teachers accused of sexual misconduct with students skyrocketed, this time to an all-time high of 302. This reflects a 36 percent increase for the 2016-17 school year.
On Wednesday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) confirmed for Breitbart Texas they opened 302 cases in 2016-17, an uptick of 36 percent when compared to the 222 investigations the agency launched during fiscal year 2015-16.
This also represents a 145 percent increase in teacher-student sexual misconduct cases since 2008-09, the year when the TEA began tracking such incidences. Then, the number of reported cases totaled 123. The agency also accounted for 141 investigations in 2009-10, 152 in 2010-11, 156 in 2011-12, 163 in 2012-13, 179 in 2013-14, 188 in 2014-15, and 222 in 2015-16.
Troubled by the growing problem, some state lawmakers met in December 2015, between legislative sessions, to seek policy solutions for this rampant problem ravaging Texas classrooms. The resulting legislation, Senate Bill 7 (SB 7), became law this year. On September 1 it went into effect, cracking down on education professionals who form inappropriate sexual, romantic, or emotional bonds with students.
TEA spokeswoman Lauren Callahan spoke to Breitbart Texas about how the agency hopes SB 7 will curb this crisis.
“We are pleased that additional protections were provided for students through SB 7, including extending the definition of an inappropriate relationship in the penal code to include a student in any district,” she said, noting the law provides the agency more tools to better investigate these cases.
Before SB 7, it was not a crime when a teacher hooked up with a 17-year-old student, considered the age of consent, when that educator worked at a different district than where that juvenile attended school. Now, Texas Penal Code 21.12, classifies all teacher-student sexual relationships as a second degree felony.
The law also grants the TEA “the ability to revoke the certificate of an individual who is a registered sex offender,” added Callahan.
Some blame social media as the conduit where teacher and student relationships often go haywire, spiraling off into sexting and sexual activity. Callahan noted that SB 7 mandates school districts to “implement a local social media policy that prohibits improper communication between educators and students.”
SB 7 requires teachers, in general, must attend ongoing professional development classes that reinforce appropriate boundaries, relationships, and communications with students.
“Keeping students safe in their classrooms is always our first priority,” stated Callahan.
Likewise, school administrators such as principals, directors, and superintendents must report incidences of improper conduct between an educator and a student. Looking the other way and failing to do so can result in jail time and fines ranging from $500 to $10,000.
Last year, USA Today graded all 50 states on how well they tracked teacher sexual misconduct, an epidemic nationwide. Texas got a “B” grade, receiving high marks for performing background checks and mandatory reporting of educator misconduct. The state scored lower, though, on its transparency of online information and in sharing that information with other states to thwart a purported predator educator from getting rehired elsewhere.
In late 2016, the TEA asked lawmakers for nearly $400,000 to beef up their 2018-19 academic budget so the Educator Investigator (EI) unit could better handle an ever-escalating caseload.
“The additional funding will allow our EI team to hire two additional investigators, which will allow them to more quickly investigate all the cases they have jurisdiction over,” said Callahan, referencing Title 19 of the Texas Administrative Code (TAC), Chapter 249. It addresses the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) disciplinary proceedings, sanctions, and contested cases.
In May, when Governor Greg Abbott signed the SB 7 into law, he emphasized a “small number of teachers are tarnishing the image of some of our best and brightest teachers.” He added: “…by signing this law, we’re saying no more are we going to allow that to happen.”
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