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Senate cracks down on teacher-student sexcapades

By Kenric Ward

Watchdog.org

The Texas Senate expanded investigations and toughened penalties against teachers who have sexual relations with students.

Senate Bill 7 was approved on a 30-0 vote Wednesday and heads to the House. The bill:

  • Expands the Texas Education Agency’s investigative authority from intra-district to inter-district relationships. Currently, TEA can only investigate cases where a teacher and student are in the same district.
  • Broadens reporting requirements to include principals. Currently, only superintendents can be sanctioned for failing to report.
  • Automatically revokes teaching certificates if offenders receive deferred adjudication for a misconduct offense or any offense that would require them to register as sex offenders.

This bill was co-authored by every member of the Texas Senate, according to

Sen. Robert Nichols, R – District Three, which includes 19 counties including the greater part of East Texas and Montgomery County.

“I believe Senate Bill 7 is a great step in providing for the well-being of our students. It is necessary to make sure there are not only protocols in place for how these situations are reported to authorities, but also the proper training is provided on the appropriate boundaries and communications between educators and students, as well as ensure those who commit these crimes are not able to go to another school,” Nichols said.

The TEA opened a record 222 “inappropriate relationship” cases in the past fiscal year. The agency launched 97 new investigations between Sept. 1, 2016 and Jan. 31, 2017, according to a report in the San Antonio Current.

In 2013, Vidor district administrators received an anonymous letter indicating Sondra Reed was engaging in what was deemed ‘inappropriate conduct’ with former and current students. Sondra Reed was placed on administrative leave immediately at the start of the district’s investigation and the appropriate authorities were notified.

As the investigation moved forward, the district received more information indicating Chad Reed had reportedly engaged in ‘inappropriate conduct involving students of Vidor ISD’ as well. He was also placed on administrative leave.

The board unanimously approved the immediate termination of Sondra Reed and then accepted the resignation of Chad Reed.

Kip Eric McFarlin worked for four school districts, including Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School in the mid 1990s, before being hired at Nederland Independent School District from July 1997 to May 2004, followed by a period of employment at Orangefield Independent School District and then Port Arthur ISD. At each school, McFarlin had a reputation for ‘inappropriate conduct’ with female students.

McFarlin is serving an eight year sentence for sexual assault of a child and improper relationship between an educator and a student.

“Educator misconduct has become a statewide epidemic,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, author of SB 7. “We cannot afford to turn a blind eye or sweep these issues under the rug.”

On March 20, a Judson-Converse High School English teacher is scheduled to stand trial on lewd conduct and child-sex charges for hosting parties where teenage boys were allegedly encouraged to get naked and perform sex acts on each other.

Jared Anderson, 28, had just been named “teacher of the year” at the suburban San Antonio campus.

Bettencourt’s bill is long overdue, says Allan Parker, president of the San Antonio-based Justice Foundation.

“Student safety has not been a priority. School districts will let a teacher resign, rather than pay the $50,000 it takes to fire them,” Parker told Watchdog.org.

Parker and others say school systems have long been guilty of “passing the trash” — allowing accused abusers to move on to other campuses.

With TEA investigative data sealed from the public and no statewide registry of offenders, the problem persists in urban and rural districts alike.

The number of teacher-student sex cases has increased every year for the past seven years, according to the Current report.

House Speaker Joe Straus’ office did not respond to Watchdog’s request for comment on SB 7.

Kenric Ward reports for Texas Watchdog. Contact him at kward@watchdog.org and @Kenricward.

Dawn Burleigh contributed to this article.