Bill Cracking Down on Sexual and Other Improper Student-teacher Relationships Passes House

Texas is on track to crackdown on teachers who have sex and inappropriate relationships with students. On Monday, members of the state's House of Representatives tentatively passed a bill in an early vote that would -- among other things -- make school superintendents and principals who fail to report such conduct subject to criminal charges. The bill by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, is an attempt to stop what Bettencourt has called a "statewide plague." The House is expected to give a final vote on the bill, and if it passes, would head back to the Senate. The legislation is a priority for state lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, as the number of educators accused of inappropriate relationships with students continues to rise. The Texas Education Agency reportedly opened 222 investigations into inappropriate student-educator relationships in fiscal year 2015-16. By the end of January, the agency had opened 97 new cases since Sept. 1 -- a 43 percent increase compared with the number of cases opened over the same period last year. Propelling the problem is that sometimes teachers with a history of improper relationships with students resign to avoid potential legal battles -- rather than be fired by school districts -- and are rehired by other districts, a cycle that educators and lawmakers often refer to as "passing the trash." "One case of a bad teacher molesting a child or having an inappropriate relationship with a child is one too many," said Clay Robison, spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association, in March. "We would like to see that stamped out. Bettencourt and educators blame the explosion of social media partly for the rise, but they say it's a systemic problem. Under this bill, teachers would be charged with an improper relationship with a student regardless of whether or not the student is in their district. Teachers also would have their certificates revoked if they receive deferred adjudication of guilt or are ordered to register as a sex offender. Bettencourt's bill would expand reporting requirements to include principals, along with superintendents. It also could land school administrators a Class A misdemeanor if they fail to report teacher misconduct or a state jail felony if they intentionally tried to hide the misconduct. Currently, superintendents can be sanctioned by the State Board of Educator Certification if they fail to report teacher misconduct, but it's not a crime. And administrators who help a teacher who they know has a history of sexual misconduct land another classroom job could have their certificates voided. The bill also includes teacher training to better handle boundaries and relationships with students. Lawmakers also adopted an amendment by state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, to revoke pensions from teachers with felony convictions who are guilty of continuous sexual abuse of a child, an improper relationship between educator and student, or sexual assault.Last week, a Spanish teacher at Uplift Williams High School near Love Field Airport was arrested on allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a student at the school. It follows numerous other incidents in North Texas. In March, a special education teacher at an all-boys school in Grand Prairie was arrested also after accusations of an inappropriate relationship with a student. And in January, a Dallas ISD student got a middle school teacher to pay him nearly $28,000 by threatening to expose their sexual relationship to police.  Continue reading...

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