ATPE News Magazine

Fall 2017 | Volume 37 | Issue 5

New Law Tightens Regulations on Teacher-Student Relationships

Unfortunately, stories of inappropriate relationships between teachers and students continue to make headlines across the state. Only a tiny fraction of Texas educators engage in inappropriate relationships, but these stories nonetheless inspired Texas legislators to pass Senate Bill 7 (SB7). Already signed by the governor, SB7 strengthens existing laws against inappropriate teacher-student relationships and creates new penalties for administrators who do not appropriately report allegations.

What Does SB7 Do?

Simply put, SB7 broadens the scope of the law. Existing law made improper sexual relationships between an educator and a student enrolled in the educator’s district a felony. SB7 amends that statute to criminalize improper relationships between all educators and students—regardless of whether they are in the same district.

SB7 also extends the duty to report allegations to principals. This change was made to prevent educators from avoiding penalties for inappropriate activity by simply changing districts. Previously, only superintendents had a legal obligation to report an allegation of inappropriate contact with a student. Under SB7, a principal must notify the superintendent within seven days of becoming aware:

  • that an educator has resigned or had employment terminated following allegations of inappropriate contact with a student (and other types of serious misconduct); or
  • of an educator’s criminal record.

SB7 also creates harsher penalties for failure to report allegations or a prior record of misconduct. Superintendents and principals who fail to make required reports may receive an administrative sanction of up to $10,000. Additionally, if it is found that either administrator intentionally concealed the educator’s misconduct, that administrator may be charged with a state jail felony.

Additionally, SB7 requires certified professionals applying to new positions to submit a pre-employment affidavit disclosing whether they have ever been charged with having an inappropriate relationship with a minor. If the charge was determined to be false, the applicant can still be considered for the position. However, if an administrator is aware that an applicant has been convicted of having an inappropriate relationship with a student and employs the applicant despite this knowledge, the administrator’s certificate may be revoked.

The bill allows the board to suspend or even revoke the certificate of any educator who assists another person in obtaining employment at a school district if the educator knows that person has previously engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor student. Note that whether there was an actual conviction or charge is irrelevant. What matters is that the person who helped the educator find employment had knowledge of the sexual misconduct. The bill notes that the routine transmission of administrative files (such as a service records) would not count as assistance for these purposes. It is more likely that lawmakers meant to deter certified employees and administrators from providing good references or recommendations for someone who has been charged with misconduct.

Administrators should consult their district if they have questions as to whether a report should be made on an educator. The circumstances that must be reported are narrowly defined, but with SB7’s new penalties for failure to report, the stakes are high. And, with a seven-day deadline, time is of the essence.

Loss of Retirement

Finally, SB7 adds a particularly significant penalty for educators convicted of engaging in a sexual relationship with a student—loss of their TRS pension. Under the new law, an improper sexual relationship between an educator and a student could render a convicted educator ineligible to receive retirement benefits if the offense was committed while the educator was employed and participating in the Texas Teacher Retirement System. Because of efforts made by the ATPE lobby team and others, changes were made before the law was passed to ensure that only the state’s contribution would be forfeited. ATPE also worked hard to ensure that the retirement funds would still be accessible to the educator’s family in certain circumstances. The final version of the bill allows a judge to determine whether the educator’s family can still receive the pension benefits.

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