AUSTIN (Oct. 23, 2014) — As part of Texas Safe Schools Week (Oct. 19-25), the Texas Education Agency (TEA) advises that everyone in education – including students, parents, teachers, administrators, coaches and staff – plays a critical role in identifying and reporting improper educator-student relationships.
Local school district superintendents are statutorily required to report such incidences to TEA and local law enforcement agencies (in those cases where potential criminal charges are involved). Any report of an inappropriate relationship should be taken seriously, handled appropriately at the local level, and reported to TEA to assure proper sanctions and safeguards can be taken for the protection of students in all Texas districts.
“Anyone reporting such an incident to local school administrators – especially students and parents – must be confident that their report will be investigated fully and impartially,” said Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. “Everyone who works with students in schools across our state holds a position of trust that should never be called into question.”
TEA investigates reports of inappropriate educator-student relationships, working with school district officials as well as local law enforcement. Over the past three school years, the number of investigations opened by TEA staff specifically on allegations of inappropriate relationships has increased, from 141 in 2009-10 to 179 in 2013-14. Under the state penal code, a school district employee commits a second-degree felony if he or she engages in sexual contact with a student who is not their spouse, even if that student is 18 years of age.
A person who serves as the superintendent of a school district or the director of an open-enrollment charter school, private school or regional education service center is required by law to promptly notify TEA or the State Board of Educator Certification (SBEC) in writing of any educator misconduct that results in termination or resignation.
If a termination or resignation is based on an act of misconduct, a superintendent must report the situation to TEA within seven days. A settlement with a departing employee does not alter the superintendent's responsibility to report the information. A superintendent who fails to report the required information within the statutorily-required seven days faces possible sanctions including reprimand, suspension or revocation of the superintendent's certificate.
The Texas Educators' Code of Ethics provides rules for standard practices and ethical conduct toward students, professional colleagues, school officials, parents and members of the community. The Code specifically calls on teachers to refrain from inappropriately communicating with students through the use of social media. Over recent years, electronic communication (such as cell phone, text messaging, email, instant messaging, blogging, or other social network communication) has provided a private method to contact students during and after school hours.
Parents play an essential role in helping to monitor any communication via social media directly to their child. While group communication (such as to an entire class regarding homework, changes in practice times to all athletic team members) can serve a valid purpose, direct emails, texts or instant messaging to students should be discouraged at both the school and parental level. Many local school districts have adopted social media policies to clearly define appropriate uses of modern communication technology.
TEA has produced a series of training videos regarding the ethical behavior of all personnel on school campuses. The training videos are available for district use. The TEA website also has an area dedicated to TEA's and SBEC's role and responsibilities in overseeing the conduct of Texas educators. In addition, anyone seeking to review a superintendent's responsibilities in reporting inappropriate relationships can view them here.
Texas Safe Schools Week is held annually in conjunction with the national America's Safe Schools Week. To read the Governor's Safe School Week proclamation, the joint Texas Education Agency-Texas School Safety Center proclamation or to learn more about Texas Safe Schools Week topics, visit the Texas Education Agency website at tea.state.tx.us or the Texas School Safety Center website at txssc.txstate.edu.