According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), investigations into improper relationships between teachers and students have risen significantly in recent years, including a 36 percent jump in the 2017 fiscal year — the seventh consecutive year that the number rose.
Penalties for improper relationship charges in Texas
“Improper relationships,” in this case, include any sexual contact between a teacher and a student. Under Texas sex crime laws, a teacher having sex with a student under 17 is a second degree felony.
The Texas Penal Code states that punishment for such a crime includes a prison sentence of at least 2 years and up to 20 years, as well as a fine of up to $10,000.
Even worse would be an adult having sex with a child under 14 years of age. That is a first degree felony in Texas, with punishments including 5 to 99 years in prison and a fine of as much as $10,000.
Hundreds of sex crime investigations open in recent years
A report in the Houston Chronicle indicated that the TEA opened 302 investigations into improper teacher-student relationships in 2016-2017.
In addition, during the 2018-2019 fiscal years, TEA tracked 442 such inappropriate relationships. And since 2010, over 1,500 investigations into improper teacher-student relationships have been opened.
Such sex crimes are unfortunately common in the Houston area.
Just recently, a teacher in the Houston Independent School District was charged with sexual assault of a child under 17 after a student claimed she had performed oral sex on him.
How Texas sex crime laws have changed
Texas sex crimes laws have changed to combat this ongoing crisis.
In 2017, Gov. Greg Abott signed into a law a bill which requires school principals to notify their school district superintendents if a teacher is terminated or resigns after allegations of serious misconduct.
Another new law, which took effect in September 2019, requires superintendents to report within 7 days when a non-certified employee resigns or is terminated due to allegations of an improper relationship with a student.
How social media is impacting this crisis
TEA says the rise of social media has had 2 substantial impacts on the situation.
First, social media gives teachers greater access to contact students (and gives students greater access to contact teachers) beyond a normal classroom situation, and thus can contribute to improper teacher-student relationships.
Second, evidence revealed on social media can contribute to pinpointing such improper relationships and, later, to prosecution. In fact, an improper teacher-student relationship may exist entirely on social media and still be an arrest-worthy offense.
Take the case of disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, who was sentenced to 21 months in prison for “sexting” with a minor he’d never actually met in person.
Improper relationship punishments can be harsh — and unfair
Clearly, Texas and other states are taking such crimes so seriously that punishments can be extremely harsh — and sometimes extremely unfair to teachers. Students may be the ones who pursue and initiate improper relationships with teachers, but only the teacher is punished — often, with a lengthy jail sentence.
Also, a student may have reason to falsely accuse a teacher of an inappropriate relation in order to seek revenge for a bad grade, which costs the teacher their job and possibly their freedom.
If someone in your family faces an accusation of an improper teacher-student relationship, you need an experienced sex crime defense lawyer to protect your legal rights.