Governor Signs Bill with Stiffer Penalties for Inappropriate Educator-Student Relationships

On May 25, 2017, Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 7 (SB 7) to strengthen penalties for inappropriate teacher-student relationships in Texas.   The bill amends several provisions of the Texas Education Code, Penal Code, and Code of Criminal Procedure.  Penal Code § 21.12(a) is amended so that it prohibits sexual contact between an employee and a student who is enrolled at a public or private primary or secondary school at which the employee works.  The bill also prohibits sexual contact between a person who holds a position that requires certification and a student who is enrolled in a public or private primary or secondary school or a student participating in a school-sponsored activity.  The law also prohibits an educator from engaging in online solicitation as set out in Penal Code 33.021, regardless of the age of that student.  According to the Governor’s office, increased penalties could include the following:

  1. Automatic termination and revocation of a teaching certificate for teachers that engage in improper relationships with students.
  2. Fines up to $10,000 on any superintendent or principal who neglects to report an improper relationship within 7 business days of discovering it.
  3. Jail time for principals or superintendents who intentionally conceal an improper relationship.
  4. Suspension, revocation, or denial of the certification of educators who assist an unscrupulous teacher in obtaining a job at another school.
  5. Suspension and annulment of an educator’s retirement annuity for educators convicted of having an improper relationship with a student.

Senate Bill 7 requires districts to adopt an electronic communication policy addressing communications between school employees and students.  The policy must (1) include provisions designed to prevent improper electronic communications between school employees and a student; (2) allow a school employee to elect to not disclose to students the employee’s personal telephone number or email address; and (3) include provisions instructing a school employee about the proper method for notifying appropriate local administrators about an incident in which a student engages in improper communications with an employee.

School boards must also adopt a policy under which notice is provided to the parent or guardian of a student with whom an educator is alleged to have engaged in misconduct.  Applicants for employment at a school district, district of innovation, open-enrollment charter school, regional education service center, or shared services arrangement must submit a pre-employment affidavit disclosing whether they have ever been charged with, adjudicated for, or convicted of having an inappropriate relationship with a minor.  The failure to make such a disclosure is grounds for termination.

Educator preparation programs must include discussion of appropriate relationships, boundaries, and communications between educators and students.  Continuing education requirements for principals must also include information on preventing, recognizing, and reporting any sexual conduct between an educator and student.  Senate Bill 7 will take effect on September 1, 2017.

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