Unions have concern with teacher impropriety bill

5:54 p.m Monday, March 20, 2017 Texas News & Politics
A bill by state Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, right, would require anyone who applies for a job at a public school to disclose if he or she has ever been investigated for improprieties with a minor. Mark Wiggins, left, with the Association of Texas Professional Educators, testified Monday during a Capitol hearing that he has concerns with the bill’s impact on falsely accused teachers. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A bill filed by a Cedar Park legislator would require anyone applying for a job in a Texas public school to disclose whether he or she had been accused of improprieties with a minor.

House Bill 218 by Republican state Rep. Tony Dale is intended to crack down on the rising number of improper relationships between teachers and students, an issue that has become a priority for lawmakers. The bill, which Dale presented Monday to the House Educator Quality Subcommittee, also would require more teacher training and tighten the language in the criminal law about improper teacher-student relationships.

Although they’ve supported similar legislation and most of the components in Dale’s bill, teacher groups said Monday that they were hesitant to fully back HB 218 because it would require job applicants to disclose accusations of improprieties, even if they were false.

“Those falsely accused teachers could face some serious harm to their employment prospects,” said Mark Wiggins, lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

The Texas State Teachers Association and the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers also expressed similar concerns during the hearing.

Dale’s bill would require job applicants to explain the facts of the case and whether the accusations were true or false. A false accusation wouldn’t prevent an applicant from being hired, the bill says, but failing to disclose required information in the affidavit could lead to termination.

Dale told the subcommittee that the disclosure requirement is meant to keep teachers who have had improper relationships with students from quietly resigning from one school district to go to teach elsewhere. He referred to half a dozen such cases in Central Texas and an investigation by the American-Statesman, published in February, that found that teacher improprieties are often kept secret by school districts.

The Statesman set up a database to help the public identify former teachers accused of such misconduct and where they have worked in the past.

“It’s time that we fully address this issue and make sure that educators who have inappropriate relationships with students are not allowed to teach again,” Dale said.

Dale’s bill would also require school districts to adopt a policy to immediately notify parents of allegations that their child had been in a relationship with a teacher.

The bulk of Dale’s bill is the same as another sweeping measure — Senate Bill 7 — that the Senate approved earlier this month. Both bills would:

• Allow teachers to be charged with improper relationship regardless of where the student attends school.

• Automatically revoke a teaching license if an educator must register as a sex offender or receives deferred adjudication of guilt over an improper relationship with a student, among other offenses against minors.

• Require principals, not just superintendents, to report teacher misconduct to the Texas Education Agency. Failure to report would be a misdemeanor.

• Revoke the teaching license of an administrator who helps a teacher who had an improper relationship with a student get a job at another school district.

• Require school districts to implement policies on proper teacher-student electronic communication.

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