July 2017

Senate Bill 7 addresses improper relationships and educator misconduct

by Amy Campbell

Texas legislators responded to a rise in reports of educator misconduct by passing Senate Bill 7 (SB 7) during the regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature. The law, which takes effect September 1, 2017, adds stronger penalties for misconduct and increases requirements for reporting improper conduct. This article will not cover every change resulting from SB 7; rather, it’s designed to cover the major provisions expected to impact HR in schools.

Expanded definition of educator

Current law prohibits improper relationships between educators and students but limits the definition of educator to employees that are appropriately certified, permitted, licensed, or credentialed in the following positions:
  • Teacher
  • Librarian
  • Administrator
  • School counselor
  • Occupational therapist
  • Physician
  • School psychologist
  • Marriage and family therapist
  • Speech-language pathologist
  • Teacher intern or teacher trainee
  • Educational aide
  • Educational diagnostician
  • Audiologist
  • Physical therapist
  • Nurse
  • Licensed professional counselor
  • Social worker
SB 7 expands the law to cover employees who are not permitted, certified, licensed, or credentialed but are employed in these positions, including charter school and district of innovation employees. 

Increased notification requirements

Under current law, superintendents are required to report to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) certain acts of misconduct if an employee is terminated “based on” evidence of the misconduct. SB 7 revises the law to trigger required notification if the educator was terminated or resigned and “there is” evidence that the educator committed certain acts of misconduct, such as an unlawful act with a minor or a criminal offense on school property. In other words, reporting is required if misconduct occurred; it doesn’t need to be the stated reason for the educator’s termination or resignation.
 
The bill also adds a requirement that principals notify the superintendent, not SBEC, no later than seven business days after the date of an educator’s termination or resignation following an alleged incident of misconduct or after obtaining information about an educator’s criminal record. Principals must also report to the superintendent, no later than seven business days after the date the principal knew information about an educator’s criminal record, even if the educator remains employed by the district. The bill also clarifies superintendents must report to SBEC seven business days after receipt of a report from a principal or the date he or she knew about the termination or resignation related to misconduct or a criminal record.
 
The bill further requires a district to notify the parent or guardian of a student with whom an educator allegedly engaged in abuse or an inappropriate relationship as soon as feasible after the district becomes aware the alleged misconduct may have occurred. The notice must include that the alleged misconduct occurred, whether the educator resigned or was terminated in light of an investigation, and whether a report was submitted to SBEC concerning the alleged misconducted.
 
Immunity for reporting to SBEC is expanded to principals and directors of school districts, districts of innovation, charter schools, regional service centers, and shared service arrangements who report in good faith. The law expands the immunity to apply to communications with other superintendents, directors, and principals about an educator’s criminal record or alleged incident of misconduct.

Increased penalties

While current law already allows SBEC to impose sanctions on superintendents for failing to provide required notice to SBEC, SB 7 extends the allowable sanctions to principals who fail to provide notice to the superintendent. An administrative penalty of between $500 and $10,000 is added for superintendents or principals who fail to provide timely notice. Failure to provide timely notice with an intent to conceal an educator’s criminal record or alleged incident of misconduct is a state jail felony.
 
A former or current school district employee who is a member of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will now lose their annuity if convicted of an improper relationship between educator and student, sexual assault or abuse if the victim is a student, or a similar federal offense.
 
The bill also expands the list of circumstances under which educator certification can be revoked to include conviction or placement on deferred adjudication community supervision for all offenses requiring registration as a sex offender, regardless of the age of the victim. Current law only applied to such offenses if the victim was a minor. Under current law, SBEC must provide notice of an educator’s certificate revocation to the person, TEA, and district not later than the fifth day after the date SBEC receives notice of the conviction or placement on deferred adjudication supervision, and upon receipt of the notice, the district must remove the employee from the campus or administrative office. SB 7 now requires the approval of the board of trustees or designee to take required employment actions, including suspending the person without pay, providing the person with written notification that their employment contract is void, and terminating the person as soon as practicable if the person is employed under Chapter 21 contract.
 
Finally, the bill authorizes SBEC to suspend or revoke a certification or impose other sanctions if a person knows that a person violated the law by engaging in sexual misconduct with a minor or student and helps that person get a job at a school district. 

Other changes

Effective September 1, applicants for positions that fall under the definition of educator will be required to submit a pre-employment affidavit disclosing a charge, adjudication, or conviction based on an inappropriate relationship with a minor, as well as relevant facts and whether the charge was determined to be true or false. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will post a form and develop a rule that provides guidance on how to implement this requirement. Provisions that need to be addressed include what constitutes an affidavit, the definition of inappropriate relationship, and the definition of charge.
 
Of final interest to HR administrations is the requirement for districts to adopt a written policy concerning electronic communications between school employees and students enrolled in the district. Electronic communications is defined in the bill to include any communications facilitated by the use of any electronic device, including e-mails, text messages, instant messages, and messages through websites. District policy must include provisions designed to prevent improper electronic communications between school employees and students and must allow a school employee to elect to not disclose to students a personal telephone number or e-mail address. Policy must also explain how employees notify administrators about a student’s improper communication with them. Recommended changes to Policy DH (LOCAL) will be addressed in Update 109, which will be sent to districts in September. These new provisions are included in the July revisions to the Model Employee Handbook.

Next steps

As always, districts should consult local counsel for expert guidance to comply with changes as a result of SB 7. HR Services will continue to provide assistance and resources to support HR staff in districts and will update our members and materials as TEA rules are issued.