Se­nate OKs penal­ties for im­proper teach­er­stu­dent re­la­tion­ships

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Chang jchang@states­man.com

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 Edu- cation Agency.

A prin­ci­pal or su­per- in­ten­dent 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, we can­not af­ford that these is­sues be swept un­der neath the rug any­more,” Bet­ten­court said.

The bill will be con­sid­ered next in the House.

The num­ber of cases of im­pro per re­la­tion­ships be­tween teach­ers and stu- dents 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 has been a prior- ity 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 teach- ers 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 sim- ply 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-stu- dent 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.

JAY JANNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

State Sen. Paul Bet­ten­court, R-Hous­ton, who filed a bill re­form­ing sanc­tions for im­proper teacher-stu­dent re­la­tion­ships, hud­dles Wed­nes­day in the Se­nate cham­ber with his col­leagues. The mea­sure, SB 7, passed unan­i­mously.

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