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Proposed legislation aims to curb number of inappropriate student-teacher relationships

Photo: Clemens v. Vogelsang / CC BY 2.0

Teacher misconduct cases are up more than 40 percent in Texas. According to the Texas Education Agency, it is the biggest jump in inappropriate student-teacher relationships in the last decade.

In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, TEA reviewed and is investigating 429 cases. That is up from 302 cases the year before and 222 cases in 2015-2016 fiscal year.

Head of teacher investigations at the TEA, Doug Phillips attributes the steady rise in cases in part to advances in technology.

“I think that’s made it a whole lot easier for educators and adults everywhere to be in constant contact with children,” said Phillips.

He said at least initially, a large majority of the relationships his team investigates begins with texting or email.

Another reason for the increase, according to Phillips, is likely the passing of Senate Bill 7.

The law requires more administrators, both principals and the superintendent, to report allegations to the agency. It also creates a fine, up to $10,000, for not reporting allegations.

Senate Bill 7 also changed the standard for the amount of evidence needed to require an incident be reported.

"It’s better for us to know its out there, because we always suspected there was more," said Phillips.

But despite more reporting, Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor said Tuesday, that Texas certainly has a growing problem.

"I'm hearing more egregious examples in the paper, it’s almost like it’s becoming a regular part of the newspaper now.It used to be extremely rare and now it’s almost regularly," said Sen. Taylor.

Author of Senate Bill 7, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, believes the data showing an increase is helping.

"I actually consider this to be a positive development, because again, what gets measured gets fixed and we now know the extent of the problem," said Sen. Bettencourt.

Sen. Bettencourt plans to introduce new legislation in 2019 that would strengthen SB 7 and create a "do-not-hire registry" to ensure accused teachers and non-certified employees don’t bounce from district to district. Non-certified employees can include positions like janitors, coaches, cafeteria works, and some educators.

Bettencourt said it is also important that private schools could have access to the registry.

"Those teaching certificates need to be revoked,” said Sen. Bettencourt. “These people who prey on our kids have to do either criminal or civil restitution."

There is some good news. The TEA says the amount of time it takes to investigate these cases has dropped by 13 days. That is thanks to more funding for 2 additional investigators.

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