New 'passing the trash' law aimed at stopping predator teachers
A new law prompted by a WFAA investigation that exposed lapses in the system designed to stop abusive teachers from preying on students has gone into effect.
On Friday, Sept. 1, Senate Bill 7 brought harsher penalties on school administrators who “pass the trash,” the industry term for allowing teachers who molest students to quietly resign and get new jobs in other districts.
WFAA exposed the practice last year, prompting top lawmakers to act.
Our "Passing The Trash" investigation showed how top school leaders often don’t report cases to the state and instead look the other way.
The number of reports of teachers accused of sexual misconduct with students hit a record high last year at 380, according to the Texas Education Agency. That’s more than two per school day.
But as our "Passing The Trash" investigation proved, those numbers are underreported.
WFAA found dozens of cases where top school leaders failed to report bad teachers to the state, as required by law. Instead, administrators often looked the other way and allowed the teacher to continue teaching in another district.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott both made combating the practice a top priority during this past regular session of the Texas Legislature.
So what’s in the new law?
As of Friday, Sept. 1:
- If a superintendent or principal intentionally fails to report a predatory teacher to the TEA, they’ll face a state jail felony.
- Anyone who knowingly helps a predatory teacher get a new teaching position risks losing their teaching certificate.
- And parents, if your child was involved you’ll now be immediately notified.
The new law also takes aim at one of the most common tools that predator teachers use to ensnare students – unchecked electronic and social media use.
Earlier this year, WFAA talked to a teacher-turned-registered sex offender who said he used online tools to manipulate his victim.
“That gave me a lot more access than I needed to have,” he said. “You’re gaining their trust on a sexual nature, and that opens the door to commit a sexual offense.”
The new law (full text here) requires school districts to craft electronic and social media policies to prevent inappropriate communication between teachers and students.
We contacted 20 North Texas school districts and most already have a social media policy. But the new law requires districts with existing policies to include some specific new provisions:
- The policy must allow a school employee to elect to not disclose to students the employee’s personal telephone number or e-mail address.
- The policy must include provisions instructing a school employee about the proper method for notifying appropriate local administrators about an incident in which a student engages in improper communications with the school employee.
Here are some North Texas school districts' current policies:
Northwest (Tarrant, Denton and Wise counties)