Texas SB 471 – Changes in the Law Impact Private Schools in Texas

Gregory S. Love, Esq

Kimberlee D. Norris, Esq

In 2009, the Texas Legislature passed Jenna’s Law, calling for each public school district to adopt and implement policy aimed at preventing child sexual abuse.  This policy, according to the new law, was to implement methods for increasing teacher, student and parent awareness regarding sexual abuse of children.

in mid-June 2011, the Governor of Texas signed SB 471 into law, amending current law related to public schools, charter schools, day care centers and child placing agencies.  The overarching purpose of SB 471 requires child abuse and neglect training and policies in schools and child care facilities.

Private schools should take note.  Public schools enjoy protection from civil litigation that private schools do not.  SB 471 is an expansion of Jenna’s Law, which created a new ‘standard of care’ for sexual abuse prevention in Texas schools.  This standard of care defines what is reasonable for organized educational activities in our state.  Because the same risks exist in private schools, private school behavior will be judged by the same standard of care laid out in Jenna’s Law and SB 471.

CHANGES IN THE LAW FOR SCHOOLS — the “WHAT”

Understanding new requirements for schools incorporated in SB 471 requires an understanding of the context of the original code sections being modified in the Education Code.  Click here to access a copy of SB 471 with analysis and appendicies containing all other code sections referenced in the new law.

HOW TO COMPLY WITH SB 471 — the “HOW”

In response to requests from our school clients, we have prepared a step-by-step guide concerning compliance with the new requirements of SB 471.  Click here to access that guide.  For some schools, the new law simply requires a modification to existing systems; for others, it may require starting from scratch.  The step-by-step guide will direct all schools to tools created to make compliance possible and doable.

APPLAUDING THE LEGISLATION

Given reports of sexual abuse in Texas schools over the past five years, this piece of legislation is needed.  Thankfully, the Texas legislature does not join the ranks of those relying upon a different or more thorough criminal background check as a ‘silver bullet’ for child abuse prevention.  According to comprehensive studies, less than 10% of sexual abusers will EVER encounter the criminal justice system.  For the remaining 90% who abuse children, a more stringent criminal background check reveals nothing.

Though appropriate criminal background checks are necessary, the problem of child sexual abuse is best addressed by safety systems based on education and training: raising awareness of the frequency, indications of and methods to prevent sexual abuse, as well as ‘grooming behaviors’ of sexual abusers.  SB 471 requires this type of training.

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