AUSTIN, Texas — The number of Texas teachers accused of having inappropriate relationships with students continues to rise, but the larger number is being driven mainly by a new state law that has boosted requirements to report such misconduct.
- Reports of improper teacher-student relationships rise
- Changes come after state law boosts requirements for misconduct
- Misconduct cases increased 42 percent since last year
"For our kids, a lot of times school is the safe place for them," Mariam Jansky with the Center for Child Protection said.
For hundreds of Texas students last year alone, that safe space was in question. Jansky said she's counseled students who have been in improper student-teacher relationships.
"They become very distrustful, they may start getting into a lot of trouble, they may have boundary issues," Jansky said.
Last year, the Texas Education Agency opened nearly 430 cases of such improper relationships, a 42 percent increase from the previous year.
During a hearing at the Capitol Tuesday, lawmakers heard testimony that the growth is attributed to a new law passed in 2017. It expanded the requirements of who needed to report such misconduct and increased penalties for those who fail to do so.
"I actually consider this to be a positive development, because again, what gets measured gets fixed, and we're now finding the extent of the problem," Sen. Paul Bettencourt said.
Doug Phillips investigates cases for the Texas Education Agency and said improper relationships between teachers and students have always been an issue, but the digital age has made them easier.
"It's more of one these days, because of the access to cell phones and the ability to have that instant contact, unsupervised contact at all times," Phillips said.
Phillips said he predicts a continued rise in incident reports, and then eventually, a plateau, which is perceived as a positive step for those who are counseling students.
"People are reporting and doing what they need to do," Jansky said.
Janksky is hopeful the new law will eventually act as a major deterrent for any teacher contemplating misconduct.
Phillips also told the Senate panel that he hopes lawmakers will expand the law to require districts to report misconduct by non-certified employees, like bus drivers or custodians.
A private school group also testified that they'd like more access to information regarding investigations of educators so they don't become a "safe haven" for bad actors.