New Texas law aims to crack down on teacher misconduct with students

4:40 p.m Thursday, May 25, 2017 Texas News & Politics
Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 7, which cracks down on improper teacher-student relationships, at the Capitol on May 25. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Superintendents and principals who intentionally hide improper relationships between students and teachers will now face jail time.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday signed into law Senate Bill 7, one of the priority bills this legislative session that’s aimed at cracking down on the rising number of cases of improper relationships between students and teachers.

“Unfortunately, a small number of teachers are tarnishing the image of some of our best and brightest teachers. Texas racked up a dubious ranking, a ranking that has an incredibly high number of inappropriate teacher-student relationships,” Abbott said during a news conference before signing the bill. “Unbelievably, some of these teachers … have faced no real consequences.”

Under the bill originally filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, superintendents and principals who intentionally fail to report teacher misconduct will be charged with a state jail felony. If the superintendent or principal fails to report such misconduct unintentionally, he or she would have to pay a $500 fine under the bill.

The number of reported cases of improper relationships between teachers and students grew 80 percent in the past eight years. After opening 222 new cases last year, the Texas Education Agency opened another 159 cases between Sept. 1 and April 1, up about 40 percent from the same period last year.

An American-Statesman investigation this year found that fewer than half of the hundreds of teachers who lost their licenses after being investigated for an improper relationship with a student were charged with a crime. In cases where no charges occurred, very little information was readily available to the public.

Other provisions of SB 7 include:

• A teacher could be charged with improper relationship with a student regardless of where the student attends school, even if it’s in a different district.

• Teaching licenses would be revoked automatically for those who must register as a sex offender and those who receive deferred adjudication of guilt for misconduct as a teacher.

• Principals, not just superintendents, would have to report teacher misconduct to the Texas Education Agency.

• Job applicants must sign a pre-employment affidavit disclosing whether they had been charged with or convicted of having an improper relationship with a child.

• Schools must notify parents “as soon as feasible” when their children are named as victims of a sexual relationship with a teacher — including whether the teacher was fired after an investigation or resigned before an investigation could be completed.

• Educators convicted of certain misconduct with children won’t be able to receive their pensions.

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