LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - New numbers from the Texas Education Agency show more than 30 new cases are being investigated into teachers and inappropriate relationships with students. As the state legislature begins to wind down, several bills could soon be passed that some believe could help the problem.
"You have both sides in your hands and you want to do the right thing," said Cushing ISD Superintendent Michael Davis.
When a former Hudson ISD teacher was arrested and charged with six counts of sexual assault of a child, there were currently 159 cases that had be opened by the Texas Education Association since Sept.1. In the month since her arrest, 32 new cases have been opened that bring that total to 191 on the year.
Over 400 cases that have been opened at the TEA into teacher student relationships the past two school years including a handful across east Texas is alarming lawmakers.
Two different Bills have passed the senate. Senate Bill 7 has passed both the house and senate and is waiting on going to the governor. That bill would bring criminal charges against school administrators who do not report cases to the Texas Education Agency as well as put a bigger emphasis on all teachers to spot and report these incidents.
A representative for Lufkin representative Trent Ashby said he expects the bill to become law by the end of the session. Administrators who fail to report incidents could be charged with a class A misdemeanor. If in the course of the criminal investigation it is determined that it was intentional, that administrator could be charged with a state-jail felony.
"I think it is the right move," Davis said. "I don't want to be sitting in pinstripes looking through bars talking to my family on why I forgot to report somebody."
SB 2168 however could protect teachers if nothing is found wrong in an investigation by the agency. After allegations came up against a Cushing coach, Davis turned in a report on Michael Cratty.
No criminal charges came out against Cratty for the Cushing incident, but just months later, he was arrested for soliciting a minor while being employed by Zavalla ISD. Before being employed by Cushing or Zavalla, Cratty was also charged with a class C assault when he inappropriately grabbed a female student at Woden while he was a substitute.
"There was enough smoke there that there were people in our community that had questions," Davis said. "If there's questions there, we wanted to play it by the rules, and I just didn't file the report. I took the report down there and hand delivered it and said, 'Look, here is what we have.'"
Under that bill, the investigation by the TEA into Cratty at Cushing could be blocked from public view pending the outcome. The investigation, if unfounded could still be used in any future disciplinary action by the TEA.
TEA Representative Lauren Callahan said she could not comment on any pending legislation but did say the number one goal of the agency is the safety and education of the Texas students. Callahan also pointed out that the TEA is asking for legislators to consider making it a law for districts to have a social media policy. Many of the cases are now starting with communications on various social media apps.
Davis understands why the bills are there; he just wishes society was at a better place.
"Every week, we hear about a new educator having some type of relationship with a student, and it's kind of a moral decline in society," Davis said.