Lawmakers in Austin are fed up with an unending string of arrests of Texas teachers accused of preying on their students.
The Texas Senate on Thursday unanimously adopted SB 7, which would punish school administrators for failing to report teachers and staff who engage in inappropriate relationships with students.
Principals and superintendents who run afoul of the law would face a class A misdemeanor, or a felony if the administrator intentionally chose not to inform the Texas Education Agency of a predator teacher. Previously, only superintendents could be punished — which advocates of the bill said was impractical, since principals have far more contact with teachers than superintendents do.
The bill also would strip pensions from teachers convicted of sex crimes.
Senator Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Houston, wrote the bill in response to what he called “a statewide epidemic” of predator teachers.
“Inappropriate relationships between students and educators must be stamped out, period,” Bettencourt said in a statement after the bill was passed. “We’re talking about the health and safety of our kids. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye or sweep these issues under the rug. Students are irrevocably changed by these improprieties.”
Houston ISD, the largest district in Texas, has been plagued with teacher sex scandals in recent years.
Last year, a Sharpstown teacher was charged with two felonies related to sex acts involving superhero role-play with a 17-year-old student. In November, a kindergarten teacher at Berry Elementary was accused of fondling a female student.
Just this week, a Wisdom High School teacher was arrested on charges of molesting a special needs student while she was in his classroom.
In 2016, the TEA launched 222 investigations into teachers suspected of conducting inappropriate relationships with students, the Texas Tribune reported. We reported back in 2014 that the TEA was aware of an uptick in reported inappropriate teacher-student relationships.
Finally, Texas legislators have decided that a change in state law is needed to get predator teachers out of the public school system.
The Texas House is working on a similar bill, and a version of the two is likely to end up on Governor Greg Abbott's desk this session.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.