Researchers at two Texas universities are launching a project to document investigations into teacher misconduct in the state for the last two decades.
David Thompson, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Catherine Robert, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, are building a database detailing misconduct investigations, including names of teachers under investigation, details about the accusations and outcomes of the investigations, going back to 1999.
The database will include only those teachers whose teaching certificates were sanctioned in some way as a result of the investigations. Once complete, the database will allow researchers to look for patterns in which teachers were accused of what crimes, whether criminal charges were filed and whether teachers accused of misconduct went on to work in other districts, Robert said.
During the study, Robert and Thompson will look at Texas Education Agency records of teachers who were accused of having inappropriate relationships with students or other sexual misconduct that may or may not involve students, including sexual assault, Robert said.
Looking at data going back to 1999 will allow Thompson and Robert to look at sexual misconduct numbers before and after the rise of social media. Many inappropriate relationships between teachers and students begin online, Robert said, so looking at two decades' worth of data will allow researchers to see, year by year, how the growth in popularity of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter affected the number of cases of misconduct that were reported.
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Texas has seen a growing number of reported inappropriate relationships between teachers and students for more than a decade. Last year, the Texas Education Agency reported that it opened 429 investigations into inappropriate student-teacher relationships during the 2017-2018 fiscal year — a 42% increase over the previous year.
That increase came soon after the state toughened its laws concerning inappropriate student-teacher relationships. In 2017, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that expanded reporting requirements. Among other things, Senate Bill 7 created criminal penalties for principals and superintendents who failed to report such cases.
In November, Doug Phillips, the agency's director of educator investigations, told the Texas Senate Education Committee that the uptick in investigations wasn't necessarily bad news. It could be the result of more of those inappropriate relationships being reported due to increased reporting requirements rather than a spike in the number of relationships themselves, he said.
"Does that mean there were more inappropriate relationships?" Phillips said. "... Or does it mean that we're having more of those reports made to us? I don't know that we can say for sure."