HB 1799: Good cooperation to keep children safe in public and private schools

Lisette Allen

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops support of HB 1799. In our own operation of schools, we have established a program called Safe Environment, through which we train all staff how to recognize early signs of potential abuse and prevent it from occurring. We maintain policies governing adult-student interactions, including on social media. At the core of all our efforts is the protection of students entrusted to our care.

It is this same effort to protect children that animates our support for HB 1799. We praise Rep. Dale for working so hard on this legislation. In particular, we strongly support the establishment of a registry which will list all persons who are not eligible to be employed by schools. We again reiterate before this committee that such a registry needs to be open to private schools.

Private schools have a great number of certified teachers who teach either full time or part time. It would be detrimental to our children if our administration hired teaching or non-teaching staff that were named in the registry simply because they did not have access. When a teacher or non- teaching staff involuntarily leaves, a whether it be a public or private school, school administrators MUST have access to the same information because the common goal is safety, the safety of all children.

As a previous superintendent, I recall one situation where having access to a registry such as this would have assisted an administrator in determining whether an individual could be hired. Instead, we were contacted by a parent letting us know that this person was released from their previous position in the school district. This person was teaching and volunteering in one of our schools and upon releasing him he migrated over to a private school and secured a position with the girls’ soccer team. Again, he was asked to resign his position and was banned from working in our schools.

If this bill—and others with a similar goal—become established law, then public schools will more effectively terminate and not re-hire abusive staff. But this is not enough. We must ensure that abusers never again work in any Texas school. We ask that private schools be able to report to the registry and receive data from the registry. Without such a provision, the state will have created a loophole which will endangers Texas children.

For the sake of our children, we cannot fail to remove every abusive teacher or staff member from the sacred duty of education. We stand ready to work with the Texas Legislature to accomplish this goal.