By intentionally putting the safety of minors at risk, superintendents are going to new lengths to protect teachers that engage in criminal activity. Channel 8 News recently revealed that North Texas school districts are knowingly exposing innocent children to sexual predators, potentially violating state law, and obstructing state investigators in the process.
The appalling practice, which educators themselves refer to as “passing the trash,” allows teachers who may have engaged in sexual misconduct to quietly resign, retain their teaching certificate, and be passed along to other districts to avoid media scrutiny.
Over 1,000 teachers are currently under investigation by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the highest caseload in Texas history. The vast majority of these cases are due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Aside from “passing the trash,” the report also uncovered evidence that superintendents are obstructing TEA investigations by withholding or redacting crucial information about individual cases. According to investigators, lawyers representing the district claim schools are motivated to withhold information to help preserve their public image. In a 2015 Senate committee hearing, a TEA investigator publicly testified that he was “treated like the public” when his requests for information were denied or obstructed by school officials.
To make matters worse, other sexually related resignations by teachers have gone unreported to the TEA, a violation of state law. Meanwhile, the “trash” continues to make its way into new classrooms, putting the safety and security of minors at risk.
The news report referred to a “culture of secrecy” that was reinforced throughout months of their investigation. But government officials aren’t just endangering kids and covering their tracks, they’re also intimidating whistle-blowers. A lawsuit has been filed against Prosper ISD alleging the district and the local police chief tried to silence a teacher who reported sexual misconduct.
The teacher, who followed both district guidelines and state law in her actions, was asked by a local police chief to redact or alter her statement in the police report, so the problem could “be handled internally” without attracting media scrutiny.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has pledged to “put a law on the books” during the next legislative session. When questioned about the interim, Patrick stated:
“I would say to all the superintendents out there watching…any superintendent out there that’s been doing this, you better stop right now, because your career is going to be over in Texas.”
This issue speaks to two broader problems with government ethics in Texas. The first is that bad teachers are too difficult to fire. Too many schools have demonstrated they would rather operate an employment institution over doing what is best for kids, parents, and taxpayers. The second is that whistle-blowers inside government are often intimidated, not encouraged. The state should create a safe haven for individuals who observe and report illegal, unethical, or corrupt behavior inside government institutions.