- Julie Chang American-Statesman Staff
The Texas Senate unanimously approved sweeping reforms 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 state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and co-authored by the rest of the senators:
• 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.
• 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.
“We’re talking about the health and safety of our kids, and we cannot afford that these issues be swept underneath the rug anymore,” Bettencourt said.
The bill will be considered next in the House.
The number of cases of improper relationships between teachers and students in Texas has grown in each of the past eight years. Last year, the TEA opened 222 new cases. Between Sept. 1 and Jan. 31, the agency opened 97 cases, surpassing the total during the same period last year.
Addressing such improprieties have been a priority for the Senate this legislative session. State Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, who filed SB 653 — a large measure that also would crack down on improper teacher-student relationships — on Wednesday tacked onto SB 7 some provisions from his bill. One provision would revoke the pensions of teachers who have been convicted of the felonies of improper relationship with a student, continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault.
Since 2010, there have been at least 45 teachers who have been charged with those felonies and have worked as teachers for more than five years, the amount of experience that state law requires before teachers can start collecting a pension, according to an American-Statesman analysis.
More than half of them served or are serving time behind bars for multiple charges.
“Their crimes include the worst of the worst. It is simply indefensible that Texas families reward these individuals with taxpayer-funded pensions,” Taylor said.
SB 653 also would create a registry of teachers who lost a teacher license after having been convicted of a crime.
The registry would cost $3 million to build.
The hearing comes a month after the Statesman published an investigation revealing that many teachers investigated by education officials for carrying on improper relationships with students are never charged, and information on those teachers is often kept secret by district officials. The Statesman launched a database to help the public identify former teachers accused of such misconduct and where they’ve worked in the past.
The two bills have received support from teacher groups such as the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Texas Classroom Teachers Association and the Texas Association of School Boards.
Other provisions of the bill that senators approved Wednesday include:
• Allowing the TEA to subpoena witness testimony.
• Requiring school districts to implement policies regarding proper teacher-student communications online and over text messaging.
• Revoking the teaching license of an administrator who helps a teacher who had carried on an improper relationship with a student get a job at another school district; an administrator’s license also could be revoked if the administrator should have known about the teacher’s improprieties.
• The TEA could investigate a school district’s accreditation if it doesn’t cooperate with the TEA on a teacher investigation.
• Expanding teacher training on proper boundaries with students.