News 8 Investigates update
AUSTIN – The state Senate Education Committee Thursday debated the merits of legislation aimed at stopping school districts from “passing the trash,” the practice WFAA exposed last year allowing predatory teachers to continue targeting children.
“When the news broke during the interim that this practice of 'passing the trash' exists within school districts in Texas, I think we were all rightfully horrified and sickened,” said Senator Van Taylor, R-Plano.
Over a series of reports last year, WFAA found that Texas school leaders were quietly shuffling off predatory teachers to other school districts – and to other victims.
In the education community, it's a practice called "passing the trash," which is where our series got its name.
"It's absolutely just shameful that there's even a term for this because it's so frequent," former Dallas student Tiger Darrow told News 8 last year, recalling how she was victimized by one of her high school teachers. "I think there needs to be a major, major change. And it needs to happen now."
Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick was the first lawmaker to call for an end to the practice after our stories aired. Governor Greg Abbott also condemned the practice at his "state of the state" address.
"We must also penalize the administrators who turn a blind eye to such abuse and pass these teachers along to other schools," Abbott told lawmakers at the Capitol last month.
Now, two "passing the trash" bills were featured Thursday in the Senate Education Committee for their first public hearing.
After the hearing, Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, thanked WFAA for doing our part to protect Texas children, and promised to do his.
"[We] can't keep kicking this trash can down the road," the senator said. "Senate Bill 7 will stamp this out."
Among other things, SB 7 increases the penalties against school administrators who pass along teachers accused of molesting students. Those administrators who do pass the trash intentionally could face a state jail felony.
Another bill by Sen. Taylor goes even further.
Among other provisions, Taylor’s version calls for a state registry to track district employees who are not certified by the State Board for Educator Certification, or SBEC.
WFAA found numerous cases of these types of employees, like janitors, monitors and parking attendants who – like teachers – had left schools amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Since those positions aren’t tracked by SBEC, Taylor proposes a database to help keep them from gaining employment in other districts.
That provision, according to state budget analysts, could cost $3 million to create. Taylor says that is "a small price to pay to protect our children.”
Our investigation found that school districts often armed predatory teachers with positive references when they leave, helping them get new teaching jobs -- and access to more kids in other schools.
Sen. Taylor's bill, Senate Bill 653, calls for administrators providing these references to lose their jobs.
And remember those blacked out, redacted teacher records school districts often gave us? Under new legislation, they'll have a harder time keeping secrets from state investigators.
The Education Committee is expected to recommend as early as next week that both bills advance further in the Senate.
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