AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Education Agency, the investigative unit for the state’s education department, opened more than 300 cases into educator sexual misconduct with students in fiscal year 2017 – 32 percent more than the year before.
The TEA launched a total of 302 investigations into allegations of inappropriate relationships between school employees and students last year, bringing the total number of investigations since 2010 to a staggering 1,503, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
The figures have steadily increased this decade from 141 cases reported in the 2009-10 school year, with the most dramatic increases since 2014-15, when the TEA investigated 188 allegations.
The rise in inappropriate student-teacher relationships prompted Texas lawmakers this spring to approve legislation to crack down on the problem.
“We’ve raised the bar here substantially, because you just can’t tolerate this,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, sponsor of the Texas legislation, told EAGnews.
Bettencourt’s bill, which passed both the House and Senate unanimously in May without the explicit endorsement of the state’s teachers union, expanded the TEA’s ability to investigate union-negotiated “passing the trash” deals that have allowed educators accused of misconduct to resign with a letter of recommendation.
The secret deals often helped pedophile teachers land new jobs in different school districts, where many repeated their heinous behavior.
“The entire law is based on stopping that,” Bettencourt said.
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The Texas American Federation of Teachers testified “on” Bettencourt’s bill, but not “for” it, he said.
“I think the unions here had to recognize the obvious, because the train was leaving the station,” Bettencourt said. “The public is just sick of it.”
The new Texas law also expanded reporting requirements for suspected abuse to include principals, and banned anyone who receives deferred adjudication in an educator sexual misconduct case from ever teaching again in the Lone Star State.
Of course, Texas isn’t the only state struggling to address the epidemic of educator sexual misconduct.
Federal lawmakers in 2015 included a provision in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to outlaw “passing the trash” deals, and the nonprofit Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME) is now pushing lawmakers in numerous states to embrace the mandate with state legislation.
This year, Nevada also approved bills to ban passing the trash deals, as well as other protections for accused teachers written into union contracts that task administrators with scrubbing personnel files of any reference to student sex abuse allegations when they can’t be proven in court.
“That exposed the teachers union’s culpability to these types of crimes,” said Terri Miller, founder of SESAME. “Nevada law now bans that.”
The Nevada legislation also takes the issue a step further and removes any liability for administrators to speak freely about past employees who have been accused of sexual misconduct with students. In the past, the union-negotiated passing the trash deals required them to keep such information under wraps.
“It opens up transparent communication administrator to administrator and that’s how we’re going to get (pedophile educators) out of the classroom and keep them out of the classroom,” Miller said.
Similar legislation is also currently pending in Massachusetts and New Jersey, she said.