Texas school superintendent and principals who fail to report teachers who enter inappropriate relationships with students face potential criminal charges under a bill passed in the Senate.
Senate Bill 7 was introduced by Senator Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, following a rise in prosecutions against teachers involved in improper relationships with students.
In the 2016 financial year, the Texas Education Agency opened up 222 investigations involving inappropriate relationships, reported the Texas Tribune.
Bettencourt said he’s concerned that many teachers are still in education. He said school superintendents and principals are not reporting transgressions to the TEA.
The bill is intended to end the practice of school leaders turning a blind eye. Administrators who fail to report misconduct by teachers could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Those who intentionally fail to report misconduct could be charged with a state jail felony.
The bill also envisages tougher sanctions against teachers who become involved in inappropriate relationships. A teacher would be charged with having an improper relationship whether or not the student was in their district. The teacher would automatically lose his or her teaching license and be forced to register as a sex offender.
“This is an attack on our school kids,” Bettencourt said while presenting the bill to Senate. “Schools, teachers and the students especially are radically changed once a relationship like this occurs, and we have to take every action to prevent educators from getting into these situations.”
SB 7 is now headed to the Texas House, which has similar legislation of its own. House Bill 218, filed by Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, and co-authored by three other members, also takes aim at inappropriate student-teacher relationships. The House bill expands criminal liability to include teachers who target students in schools or districts different from their own, and it also criminalizes the failure to report inappropriate relationships to the State Board for Educator Certification, among other measures.
Under the Senate bill, a teacher would be charged with improper relationship with a student whether or not the student is in their district and would automatically lose their license if they have to register as a sex offender. It also introduces teacher training to properly handle personal boundaries and relationships with students.
In order to better track these cases in the state, the bill would also expand the TEA’s investigative authority from intra-district to inter-district relationships.
Before passing the bill, lawmakers adopted an amendment by Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, that would revoke state pensions from teachers with felony convictions. In response to concerns from Sens. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Royce West, D-Dallas, who worried the amendment would affect wrongly accused teachers, Taylor presented a second version of his amendment that tightened the description of teachers who would lose their pensions. Taylor’s amendment removes pensions to those who are found guilty of continuous sexual abuse of a child, an improper relationship between educator and student, or sexual assault. It would also return pensions and other payments withheld to educators whose convictions are overturned or who are found innocent.