Lawmakers seek to punish districts that hide improper student-teacher relationships

Two state representatives said school districts are hiding accusations of improper student-teacher relationships by allowing teachers to resign leaving them open to re-offend elsewhere. So, they're proposing a new law that would criminally punish principals or superintendents involved in this practice.

Teachers and coaches continue to appear in the halls of our local courthouses and jails as the state sets another new high when it comes to improper relationship investigations.

Currently the case load stands at 190 with two months to go. In all of last year, 188 cases were investigated.

"Obviously it's a concern whether you're a parent or someone who cares about protecting innocent kids. I think it's a very concerning statistic,” said Representative Tony Dale.

State representative tony dale of Cedar Park spoke with us Monday just as his chief of staff and legislative director met with Texas Education Agency officials. He wants to do whatever he can to lessen instances of inappropriate behavior and punish district officials who cover it up.

"I'm talking about criminal penalties against a person who fails to report. If you're not going to do your job in protecting children and really obey the spirit of the law, then you really shouldn't be in a position of trust,” said Dale.

Districts are required to report improper relationships, but there is no penalty if they choose not to do so. Dale says some districts sweep the issue under the rug otherwise known as "passing the trash" by allowing the staff member to quietly resign and maintain their teaching certificate.

"I have seen examples from multiple school districts where they've entered into confidential agreements, so called confidential agreements, with people that have done these kinds of things and it's actually sometimes hidden from the school district that receives this person. I don't think a school district in their right mind would want to take in a teacher like this but sometimes they don't have a full picture and we need to change this,” said Dale.

Dale is crafting legislation that would prohibit those confidential files. He wants to require districts to inform parents of the resolution of investigations and he seeks to close a loop hole in the penal code to prohibit relationships between teachers and adult students in different districts.

"Certainly it would help us, help our districts keep our students safe. And that's our main goal,” said TEA Spokesperson Lauren Callahan. “If our students aren't safe in the classrooms they're not learning. If they're not learning what are we doing here?"

TEA Spokesperson Lauren Callahan says the agency is in talks with several different legislators. Whether the cause is the high number of cases under investigation or increased media coverage, the attention is welcome.

"It's incredibly helpful and we're incredibly grateful. And it would be great if we had 181 members coming forward and saying we want these bills,” said Callahan.

Dale hopes to file the proposed legislation in November. He's also asking that the governor declare it an emergency item so that a vote can take place within the first 60 days. He wants to see that action is taken on this issue before the session ends.