We commend Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for making a legislative priority the issue of stopping the cycle of teachers who have had or who have been suspected of having inappropriate or sexual relationships with students from moving on to other school districts within Texas undetected. Unfortunately, it’s a cycle that has been repeated in our state far too often and it has put our youth at risk.
The bill, SB7, has passed the Texas House and Texas Senate and is ready for Abbott’s approval, which his office indicated would be signed into law.
It’s widely reported that the legislation, authored by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, is favored not only by Abbott, but by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has successfully pushed much of his agenda through this 85th Legislature.
This measure has bipartisan support, including that of state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who co-authored SB7.
“There have been too many cases involving an educator who has an inappropriate relationship with a student in one school district and who then moves and obtains employment in another school district without the new school district ever receiving notice of the inappropriate relationship. These practices by school districts do nothing but harm innocent children who get no warning of prior teacher misconduct. Because of my grave concerns for the safety of our children, this legislative session I co-authored legislation that tightens the school district’s reporting requirements of educator misconduct, increases TEA’s ability to pursue these cases, and strengthens my prior legislation from last session. The safety and well-being of our children is of the utmost importance,” Hinojosa told us on Tuesday, the same day the measure was sent to the governor.
If signed into law, an employee of a public or private primary or secondary school would commit an offense if the employee: “engages in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with a person who is enrolled in a public or private primary or secondary school at which the employee works.” In addition, principals would be required to report to their district administrators any misconduct and school district superintendents would be required to report it to the State Board for Educator Certification within seven days, or else these parties face fines of $500 to $10,000 and “civil or criminal liability,” according to the bill.
In addition, notice must be given by the private, public or charter school district to the student’s parents and/or legal guardians.
Teachers also would have their certificates revoked if they receive deferred adjudication of guilt.
The Texas Education Agency reportedly opened 222 investigations into inappropriate student-educator relationships in fiscal year 2015-16. Over 100 cases have been filed so far this year.
Unfortunately, in Texas, information about the many teachers who have been charged with misconduct is never aired in public or shared with other districts. Often these teachers with a history of improper relationships with students resign to avoid potential legal battles — rather than be fired by school districts — and are rehired by other districts.
We appreciate Gov. Abbott for his efforts to help stop this cycle and to help improve the safety of our children in Texas; to force those in the education system to ethically do right by reporting these cases and for parents/guardians of these children to be aware of the situations so that these families can get the counseling and assistance they need to get on with their lives.
This editorial has been updated to reflect that Gov. Greg Abbott made the issue of teacher misconduct a legislative priority in his state of the state speech and is expected to sign this legislation into law.