At the close of FY2018, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced it investigated 429 cases of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students during the 2017-18 academic year, a 42 percent increase from the 302 the agency launched in 2016-17. It also represented nearly a 250 percent uptick in cases since 2008-09, the first year TEA began tracking these incidents and reported 123 cases.
By comparison to Texas, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing opened 331 investigations into new applicants and existing credentialed teachers for sexual crimes against children in 2017-18 and 306 in 2016-17.
TEA spokeswoman Lauren Callahan recently told Breitbart News that from September 1 to November 30, the agency opened 85 cases of inappropriate teacher-student relationships for the 2018-19 school year. The agency calculates its fiscal year from September 1 to August 31.
Texas State Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), the lead author of sweeping legislation that cracked down on teacher-student sexual misconduct in the Lone Star State, reflected on the resulting law, Senate Bill 7, as 2018 marked the first full year it was in effect.
Bettencourt, who once likened this predatory classroom behavior to a “plague,” spoke to Breitbart News about how SB 7 is making a difference.
“I think SB 7 has been very successful because it’s rooting out a problem that we need to stamp out in public education,” said Bettencourt.
Undeterred by the worsening figures, Bettencourt said the higher numbers reflected the impact of SB 7. The law mandated that administrators report incidents of alleged sexual misconduct. Moreover, Doug Phillips, the TEA’s director of educator investigations, previously told Breitbart News he anticipated more reporting this year largely because SB 7 imposed serious penalties, including jail time and a fine of up to $10,000 for school superintendents and principals who intentionally failed to report suspected misconduct cases to the State Board for Educator Certification.
Bettencourt highlighted one goal of the 2017 law was to keep sexual predators out of the system, ending a practice called “passing the trash.” This referred to school administrators who turned a blind eye to sexual misconduct. He noted that, before SB 7, troubled teachers all too often quietly exited schools and found new teaching jobs but school officials knew nothing about their past predatory behavior. Now, teachers lose their credentials if convicted of sexual misconduct. SB 7 also criminalized sex between a teacher and a student regardless of whether they were in the same or different school districts. It even banned a teacher from having sex with student who is 17, the age of consent in Texas.
The senator addressed some positive results of SB 7 that surfaced during a November Senate Education Committee meeting. He recounted that Phillips indicated an interim superintended took an administrative penalty for failing to report purported teacher sexual misconduct. Then, private school officials testified that they wanted access to information about wayward educators who may turn to private schools for teaching jobs when they can no longer work in the public sector because of sexual misconduct convictions.
“I know SB 7 is having an effect because the private schools are now wanting access to a ‘do not hire’ registry because they often get prospects who have great references but may have problems,” said Bettencourt.
The Texas Legislature reconvenes in January. Bettencourt said he will introduce legislation for a “do not hire” registry. Last February, Governor Greg Abbott proposed creating a list for educators and other school employees “convicted of or placed on deferred adjudication” for improper relationships with students.
Bettencourt also signaled plans to expand SB 7 to include “any employee of a school system.” Other legislative fixes also may be in the works.
While the majority of classroom teachers never engage in sexual misconduct, the problem has become so pervasive nationwide that, in June, the U.S. Department of Education notified public school officials that the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires administrators to enact policies that prohibit “the aiding and abetting of sexual abuse.” That includes not “passing the trash.”
Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME), a nonprofit founded in 1991 to eradicate this predatory behavior, tracks these cases via teacher arrests. SESAME provided its most current 2018 national data to Breitbart News. It showed 521 teachers were taken into custody for improper relationships from January 1 to November 1. Previous 12-month statistics showed 696 teacher arrests in 2017; 540 in 2016; 496 in 2015; and 458 in 2014.
SESAME created a Model for States to Adopt to better identify, monitor, investigate, and prevent teacher-student sexual misconduct. To date, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Nevada enacted the SESAME Act.
Like Texas, other states legislated deterrent laws or shored up existing statutes to combat teacher-student sexual misconduct. Earlier this year, Florida state legislators passed CS/HB 495. It cracked down on improper relationships and lax reporting of cases by state education officials.
Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Amtzen plans to ask state lawmakers to enact legislation in 2019 that makes it illegal for teachers to have sex with students, including high schoolers, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She said this matters because 16 years is the state’s age of consent.
Meanwhile, a 2018 Denver Post investigation criticized Colorado authorities for poorly enforcing state law which requires school officials, teachers, clergy, and more than 40 other professions to report suspected physical or sexual abuse of students to police or child protective agencies. The probe found that, since 2010, only 46 criminal cases of “failing to act as a mandatory reporter” were prosecuted and only about half of these cases resulted in a conviction.
Most states want to do everything they can to protect vulnerable school children, although, last year, an Alabama judge challenged the state’s 2010 law which forbids school employees from having sex with students under the age of 19, according to AL.com. The judge declared the law unconstitutional and dismissed charges against two school employees accused of having sexual relationships with students
Generally, experts agree social media has played a role igniting improper relationships. Dr. Ernest Zarra III, assistant professor at Lewis-Clark College and author of Teacher-Student Relationships: Crossing into the Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Realms, called the problem an “ethical fracture” exacerbated by the breakdown of barriers between adults and students in an Internet age where underlying psychological factors influence why some teachers form inappropriate bonds with the students. Zarra believes professional development training is an important component to alleviating this “deeply-rooted national epidemic.”