A special report by the Austin-American Statesman found that teachers who engage in improper relationships or who may solicit sex with students are not always punished for doing so.

The Statesman’s Julie Chang looked at 686 cases between 2010 and 2017 where public school teachers allegedly participated in flirtatious text messages, kissing, sexual relationships and other banned relations with a student within their school district.

In more than half of those cases, a teacher was never charged with a related crime.

“Documented allegations of improper teacher-student relationships have climbed 80 percent over the last eight years,” Chang says. “The [Texas Education Agency] opened 222 cases in fiscal 2016.”

Chang says hundreds of teachers in the cases she looked at lost or surrendered their teaching licenses. Even though teachers are not allowed to teach in public schools without a license, in some of these cases, they still went on to private or charter schools.

“In more than half of these cases, not all of these teachers had their licenses revoked,” Chang says. “Many of them surrendered their licenses and in some cases, there could just be teachers who did not want to fight this and not necessarily have committed actual sexual misconduct towards a student. It could’ve been as relatively minor as maybe sending an inappropriate text message to a student.”

Determining whether an incident between a teacher and a student is indeed improper is not always clear cut, Chang says. A message to a student, for instance, is open to interpretation.

State statute says that you can’t have online solicitation of a minor, Chang says, but prosecutors have to decide whether the adult was actually trying to solicit sex from a student.

It’s also unclear, Chang says, whether schools are reporting alleged abuse when they find out about improper teacher-student relationships – even though they are required by law to do so.

In many instances, individual school districts are keeping this information secret. Getting records from TEA is also difficult, Chang says. She obtained the information through an open records request because it isn’t made readily available for the public.

Chang says it’s not clear whether improper teacher-student relationships are on the rise.

“There are some researchers and folks out there who think that this has always been a problem,” she says. “It’s just now that it’s becoming more apparent. … According to the Texas Education Agency, it seems like social media has played a large part in this rise in the number of cases. It’s just easier for teachers to develop more personal relationships with students via this platform without oversight from other adults.”

In Gov. Greg Abbott’s State of the State address last Tuesday, he asked lawmakers to work on legislation that would curb improper teacher-student relationships.

“Texas reportedly leads the nation in teacher-student sexual assaults,” he said. “Some of those teachers are not prosecuted. And worse, some are shuffled off to other schools. We are the ones with the duty to do something about it.

“Teachers who assault students should lose their license and go to jail. I want legislation that imposes real consequences for those teachers. We must also penalize administrators who turn a blind eye to such abuse.”

Both Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and Rep. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) have filed bills that would make it illegal for teachers and school staff to cover up allegations of other teachers’ improper relationships with students. The bills would also mandate that the TEA publish all names of teachers who have lost their licenses due to improper relationships with students.

Findings from the Austin American-Statesman report:

– 53 percent of teachers in improper relationship with students were never charged with a related crime

– 40 percent were charged and convicted or given a deferred sentence

– Of those teachers convicted or charged, 160 teachers got deferred adjudication – much like probation.

– 84 teachers were sentenced to prison or time in jail

– 27 teachers who were charged with an improper relationship with a student weren’t indicted or had charges dismissed

– 26 teachers in Central Texas lost or surrendered their teaching licenses

– Of the 26 teachers in Central Texas who lost or surrendered their teaching licenses, 14 weren’t charged with a related crime

Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.

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