Senate bill to curb teacher-student relationships moves to House floor


Highlights

Senate Bill 7 is among the first major pieces of legislation to move swiftly through the Legislature.

As of April 1, the state has investigated 159 cases so far this fiscal year.

A Senate bill that would crack down on the rising number of improper relationships between teachers and students is headed to the House floor.

The House Public Education Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 7 on Wednesday.

It’s on track to be among the first major pieces of legislation this session to make it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

“This might be the first log out of the log jam,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, the author of the bill.

Among the provisions SB 7 would establish include:

• A teacher could be charged with improper relationship with a student regardless of where the student attends school.

• A teacher’s teaching license would be automatically revoked if he or she must register as a sex offender or receives a deferred adjudication of guilt.

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

READ: Why so many Texas teachers accused of improprieties are never charged

The version of Senate Bill 7 passed by the committee on Wednesday makes tweaks to Bettencourt’s measure, which would have to be approved by both chambers before it goes to Abbott. Bettencourt said that he’s confident differences will be resolved.

Bettencourt’s version would charge a superintendent or principal who fails to report the misconduct with a Class A misdemeanor while the House committee’s version changes it to an administrative penalty of at least $500. However, under both versions, a principal or superintendent who intentionally fails to report misconduct would be charged with a state jail felony.

The House committee version also removes provisions that would eliminate the retirement payments to a teacher who has been found guilty of a crime involving a student, including an improper relationship, continuous sexual abuse, and sexual assault.

The number of reported cases of improper relationships between teachers and students has grown 80 percent in the past eight years. Last year, the TEA opened 222 new cases. Between Sept. 1 and April 1, the agency opened 159 cases, surpassing the total during the same period last year by about 40 percent.

“There’s an overwhelming need and no reason not to try to do our best to stamp out the inappropriate teacher student relationship that we have been having. It’s really been a bit of an explosion,” Bettencourt said.



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