The following was included in TCTA's 2017-18 Survival Guide, the ultimate reference tool for Texas educators, and is current as of September 2017 but is subject to change.

When a peer-to-peer student relationship crosses certain boundaries, students may face severe disciplinary action or criminal penalties. The Texas Education Code imposes requirements on districts for dealing with students who sexually assault, harass or bully other students. New legislation passed during the 2017 regular session, commonly known as “David’s Law,” expands a school district’s role in off-campus cyberbullying and requires school districts to adopt certain practices and procedures to prevent bullying and cyberbullying. Teachers should be aware of their responsibilities and liabilities in these situations.

Bullying

David’s Law defines “bullying” as a single significant act or pattern of acts by one or more student directed at another student that exploits an imbalance of power and involves engaging in written or verbal expression or conduct that will have the effect of physically harming a student, damaging property or placing a student in fear of harm to him/her self or his/her property, or is severe enough to create an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment. 

The new law clarifies that the definition of bullying includes cyberbullying and specifically states that it applies to conduct that occurs at school or a school-related activity, on a school bus, or off school property if the conduct interferes with the student’s educational opportunities or substantially disrupts the operations of the school. It also requires that a school district adopt a policy that includes procedures for a student to anonymously report an incident of bullying and for providing notice of an incident of bullying to a parent or guardian of an alleged victim on or before the third business day after the incident is reported. The parent or guardian of the alleged bully must also receive notice within a reasonable time after the incident. 

State law mandates that districts’ student codes of conduct prohibit bullying, harassment and “hit lists”; ensure that employees enforce the prohibitions; and provide methods for managing bullying and disciplining students. For example, a district must transfer a bullying victim, upon parental request, to a different classroom or campus. Also, a special education student may not be disciplined for such conduct until an ARD meeting has been held to review the conduct. 

Newly adopted legislation specifies that a student may be placed in disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP) or expelled for engaging in bullying that encourages a student to commit or attempt to commit suicide or by inciting violence against a student through group bullying. 

New reporting requirements

David’s Law states that an employee designated by the principal, other than the counselor, may make a report to the school district police department or local law enforcement if, after an investigation is completed, the principal has reasonable grounds to believe that a student has engaged in conduct that constitutes an assault or criminal harassment by repeated electronic communications. A reporting person may include the name and address of each student the person believes may have participated in the conduct. A person who makes this report is immune from civil or criminal liability or discipline resulting from the report. 

Professional development and mental health resources

David’s Law provides that continuing education requirements for teachers and principals may include instruction regarding how grief and trauma affect student learning and behavior and provide strategies to support the academic success of students affected by grief and trauma. It also requires that TEA establish and maintain a website to provide resources for school district employees working with students with mental health conditions. 

The law also requires a school counselor to serve as an impartial, non-reporting resource for interpersonal conflicts involving two or more students, including accusations of bullying. 

TCTA members being harassed, aware of harassment, or who have questions on the requirements related to bullying or sexual assault can call the TCTA Legal Department at 888-879-8282.

See also:

Sexual Assault/Harassment

Classroom Discipline

Cyberbullying