Improper Relationships between Teachers and Students
Improper relationships between teachers and students are criminalized under Texas law, regardless of the student’s age. The offense is called improper relationship between an educator and student. According to the Austin American-Statesman, cases of improper teacher-student relationships have increased by 80 percent over the past eight years. To address this growing problem, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 7 to add new criminal and administrative penalties to crack down on improper educator-student relationships.
UPDATE: SB7 has been passed and signed into law.
Senate Bill 7 and Improper Relationships between Teachers and Students
Among other provisions, SB7 expands the criminal charges available to prosecutors for improper relationships; automatically revokes teaching licenses for educators convicted of most sex offenses; mandates that principals report teacher misconduct to the Texas Education Agency (TEA); and disqualifies certain offenders from receiving their pensions. The author of the bill, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, explained the Senate Bill 7’s purpose:
“This behavior of teachers preying on students for sexual relationships will not be tolerated. SB 7 gives the TEA more tools to pursue and investigate these cases to protect the integrity of the teaching profession and, more importantly, protect the students in all of the schools in Texas.”
On May 16, 2017, Senate Bill 7 was passed by both the Texas Senate and House. The bill had unanimous support in both the House and Senate and was sponsored by a total of 78 legislators. All that remains is for Texas Governor Greg Abbot to sign the bill into law, which he is expected to do so in the near future.
How Senate Bill 7 Will Change Improper Relationships between Teacher and Student Laws
- Current law makes it a crime for school employees to have sexual contact with a student that is enrolled “in the same school district as the school at which the employee works.” SB 7 removes this language and instead prohibits employees from sexual contact with students regardless of whether the student is in the same school district.
- Under SB 7, the public retirement system “shall suspend payments of an annuity to a person” that has been convicted of improper relationship between educator and student. In other words, school employees convicted of this crime will lose their pensions. However, the full pension amount would still be available to an innocent spouse.
- SB 7 requires the State Board for Educator Certification to revoke teaching licenses of any teacher convicted of any felony sex offense or given deferred adjudication of guilt. The board may also revoke the license of any person that helps a sex offender obtain employment at a school.
- Prospective school employees would need to disclose criminal misconduct in a pre-employment affidavit.
- Principals and superintendents would both need to report teacher misconduct to the TEA. A failure to report is an offense that can lead to fines, jail time, and license revocation.
- The bill directs school districts to create written policies governing all electronic communications between employees and students.
As under the current law against improper relationships with students, it is important to note that SB 7 applies to any employee of a public or private school – not just to teachers. Once it is signed into law, SB 7 is set to take effect on September 1, 2017. The full text of SB 7 can be found here.
If you or a loved one has been charged with an Improper Relationship between an Educator and Student, call us for a confidential and complimentary strategy session.
During this call, we will:
- Discuss the facts of your case;
- Discuss the legal issues involved, including the direct and collateral consequences of the allegation; and
- Discuss the defenses that apply to your plan and in general terms discuss our approach to your case.
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