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25 Investigates: Teacher-student misconduct could see a no tolerance policy, says state rep

Posted: 8:33 PM, Aug 28, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-29 20:35:10-04
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Last week, a new school year began in Central Texas with superintendents and principals hopeful the year passes without addressing teacher and student misconduct, a problem that's been plaguing Texas for years.

In 2017, legislators took notice, and Senate Bill 7 was passed.

In the 2017-18 school year, the Texas Education Agency reported 429 teacher and student misconduct cases - up 42 percent from 2016. In fact, Texas leads the nation in improper teacher and student relationships.

Central Texas News Now reached out to Texas House Representative Hugh Shine for his thoughts on that troublesome stat.

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Rep. Hugh Shine speaking with 25 Investigates.

"Well, we're a big state. We have 30 million people in this state and we have over 1,200 school districts. It's very unfortunate," said Rep. Shine.

It's unfortunate enough to cause lawmakers in Austin to react.

In May 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed SB 7, a bill which expanded the requirements of who must report teacher misconduct, and increased penalties for those failing to report.

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Senate Bill 7

"It's also in part, the fault of reprehensible principals and superintendents who sometimes try to sweep this whole problem under the rug. Those principals and those superintendents also are going to face stiff consequences because of this law," said Abbott, at the time of the signing.

Rep. Shine was one of many who supported the bill.

"It dealt with civil and criminal issues. Resignation, putting the event into the records of that individual, also, the loss of healthcare with TRS associated with it. Just covered the civil side and the criminal side of it as well. That was a very important piece of legislation we passed," said Rep. Shine.

The bill was supposed to stop school administrators from moving abusive teachers out of their school districts and shuffling them to other districts.

25 investigates informed Rep. Shine that in May 2019, we asked 25 Central Texas school districts how often, in the last five years, were there serious allegations of a teacher having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student or fellow teacher/ employee investigated - 21 schools answered, and there were 16 cases.

"Superintendents should be reviewing those records thoroughly, no question about it," said Shine. "And they don't need to be hiring teachers that have slipped in through the cracks, and that's the reason why follow up legislation was passed."

One Central Texas superintendent who allowed a teacher with known misconduct to slip through the cracks, was Wesley Holt of Connally ISD. In 2017, Holt hired educator John Simpson .

As 25 Investigates has documented in numerous stories, before Simpson stepped foot on Connally Junior High's campus, he was investigated by the FBI for inappropriate behavior with a student at Ennis ISD. He was suspended by the district for inappropriate behavior with a student. He was then suspended by the TEA for the 2016-17 school year.

"That's what Senate Bill 7 was all about," said Rep. Shine.

The hiring move by Superintendent Holt was surprising. This is all considering Simpson's record, and Holt's background as Connally ISD's director of personnel/ human resources from 2001-04 and from 2007-13.

Right now, the Texas Education Agency has an online database that allows anyone to see if a teacher's certification has been sanctioned. However, it has very little information regarding records of misconduct.

For that, 25 investigates sent an open records request to the TEA.

"If Superintendents and principals saw the words suspended,' or certification or license revoked,' should that deter them from hiring teachers with misconduct?" asked Joe Gumm.

"You would hope so. That's the reason you put those words in there is for the purpose of raising an alarm that 'hey, you need to look at this very closely to determine what the situation is before you make a decision to hire someone,'" replied Shine.

As far as SB 7 going far enough to actually enforce the law, we asked Rep. Shine if he sees a day in the future where a teacher makes one mistake, and a no-tolerance law is enacted.

"There's always that possibility,” said Shine.

"Fill in the blank: nothing is going to stop or highly deter teacher/student misconduct except..." asked Joe Gumm.

"I'm not sure how I would answer that. You have to have dignity, integrity and respect when you're in a professional position. And if you don't have that, then you are subject to having some issues or problems that you're going to end up dealing with down the road,“ said Shine.

In May 2018, Holt, Connally's Chief Human Resources Officer Larry Cumby, Junior High Principal Thurman Brown and Assistant Principal Anne Connor were all told about Simpson's inappropriate behavior toward several teachers and employees.

Each one returned to their jobs this fall.

In the meantime, Superintendent Holt added an addition to his Junior High staff this year - his daughter Alyssa.

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Superintendent Holt and his daughter Alyssa.