Senate passes bill to curb improper teacher-student relationships

The state Senate unanimously approved sweeping reforms on Wednesday intended to crack down on the growing problem of improper relationships between teachers and students.

Among the provisions of Senate Bill 7 filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and co-authored by the rest of the members of the Senate:

  • A teacher would be charged with improper relationship with a student, even if the student attends school outside of the teacher’s school district.
  • 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.
  • A principal or superintendent who fails to report misconduct would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor and failure to report intentionally could lead to a state jail felony.

“It’s an attack on our school kids. The schools and the teachers and the students, especially, are irrevocably changed once a relationship like this occurs,” Bettencourt said.

The bill will now go to the House.

The number of cases of improper relationships between teachers and students in Texas have been on the rise over at least the last eight years. Last year, TEA opened 222 new cases. Between Sept. 1 and Jan. 31, the agency has opened 97 cases, surpassing the number during the same period last year.

An American-Statesman investigation last month 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.

Addressing the issue has been among the Senate’s top priorities this session.

Other provisions of SB 7 include:

  • The pension revocation of a teacher who has been convicted of a certain felony, including improper relationship with a student, sexual assault and continuous sexual abuse of a child.
  • Allowing TEA to subpoena witness testimony.
  • Requiring school districts to implement policies regarding proper teacher-student communications online and over text messages.
  • Revoking the teaching license of an administrator who helps a teacher who had improprieties with a student get a job at another school district; an administrator’s license could also be revoked if he or she should have known about the teacher’s improprieties.
  • TEA could investigate a school district’s accreditation if it does not cooperate with TEA on a teacher investigation.
  • More teacher training on proper boundaries with students.

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