State Legislature Considering Additional Teacher-Student Relationship Measures
The San Antonio Express-News called on the Texas Legislature in a March 24 editorial to address the number of reported cases of improper relationships between educators and students that “is growing at an alarming rate.” The editorial stated that in “many districts, teachers who engage in improper relationship with students are allowed to keep their teaching certificates, and fewer than half face criminal charges.”
The Express-News cited an Austin American-Statesman investigation that found only 308 of the 686 teachers who lost their teaching licenses following allegations of an impropriety with a student in cases reported to Texas Education Agency (TEA) between January 2010 and December 2016 were charged with a crime. “In an effort to avoid lengthy and expensive lawsuits, school districts often allow teachers accused of sexual misconduct to resign, and then districts provide a neutral reference to unsuspecting future employers,” the Express-News said.
One of the pieces of legislation the editorial focused on was Senate Bill 7, authored by state Senator Paul Bettencourt. The bill would allow a teacher to be charged with improper relationship with a student even if the student attends another school district and expand responsibility for reporting beyond the superintendents to include school principals.
Senate Bill 7 would make failure to report an incident a Class A misdemeanor, although an offense could be enhanced to a felony if a superintendent or principal tried to conceal the incident. The House Public Education Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 7 on April 12 and the Statesman said the bill was “on track to be among the first major pieces of legislation this session to make it to” the desk of Governor Greg Abbott.
San Antonio Attorney for Improper Educator-Student Relationship
In its review of the cases of 686 teachers who surrendered their teaching licenses or whose teaching licenses were revoked by the Texas Education Agency between 2010 and 2016, the Statesman noted that information about the alleged misconduct isn’t easily accessible from the TEA and “in many instances is kept secret by school districts, allowing those teachers to move on to other teaching jobs or jobs involving contact with children.”
The Statesman pointed out that teachers who lose or surrender their licenses are prohibited under state law from teaching at traditional public schools but can still be hired at charter schools or private schools. The story also noted that the TEA does not track whether teachers have been charged or convicted with crimes as the result of suspected misconduct with students, and even publicly available information on the State Board for Educator Certification’s website doesn’t specify types of misconduct.
Some of the reasons that prosecutors provided to the Statesman as to why teachers suspected of improper relationships with students are never charged include mishandlings of the cases by school districts, victims who are unwilling to cooperate, lack of evidence, or a teacher’s alleged behavior ultimately not rising to the level of a crime. The Statesman’s analysis of the 686 teachers who lost or surrendered their licenses while under investigation after accusations of improper relationship with a student did not include 441 teachers who, during the same time period, lost their licenses after allegations of sexual misconduct, a different category than improper relationship with a student that the Statesman did not analyze because some of the cases involved alleged improprieties with adults or children not enrolled in a teacher’s school district.
The Statesman’s analysis found that less than a third of teachers who were convicted received prison sentences, and almost 60 percent of those charged were granted deferred adjudication probation. “Teachers who assault children should lose their license, and they should go to jail,” Governor Greg Abbott said to applause from lawmakers during his State of the State address. “I want legislation that puts real consequences for those teachers, and we must also penalize the administrators who turn a blind eye to such abuse and pass these teachers along to other schools.”
Educators who do not face criminal charges hardly escape without penalty if they end up losing their teaching licenses. While the increase in improper relationship between educator and student cases may be a cause for concern, such cases can often be opened as the result of false allegations or honest misinterpretations by parents of relationships between teachers and children.
When a teacher is accused of having an improper relationship with a student, it invariably results in an educator being placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. Any teacher who suspects that he or she is being investigated for an alleged improper relationship with a student should exercise their right to remain silent until he or she has legal counsel.
The San Antonio criminal defense lawyers at Flanary Law Firm, PLLC aggressively defend educators all over the Bexar area during administrative and criminal investigations into alleged improper relationships between educators and students.