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6 Investigates: Who is counseling our kids?

Posted: 11:22 AM, Jan 13, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-13 23:04:23-05
Joe Bonilla
6 Investigates: What qualifications are necessary to work with your kids

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — 6 Investigates is diving into the people being hired to counsel your children at school.

Joe Bonilla has been a counselor at Bishop Garriga Middle School in Corpus Christi for five years.

Bonilla used to be a licensed professional counselor - better known as an LPC - which means he was certified with the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors.

But state documents we obtained show Bonilla surrendered his license in 2011, after allegedly having an inappropriate sexual relationship with an adult female client.

Being an LPC, 6 Investigates learned, is not a requirement to be a counselor at a private school, but we found out he was suspended before Christmas, and after the school learned of his licensing issue.

In a statement, the school explained Bonilla holds the required Master of Science in counseling for his position -- that Bonilla never represented he is, or ever was, an LPC. And that they've never received a complaint of inappropriate conduct regarding Bonilla.

That raises the question of why Bishop Garriga chose to suspend Bonilla.

Parents we talked with outside Bishop Garriga overwhelmingly want the counselor back on the job.

“We're human,” parent Michael De La Garza said. “He made a mistake, but it was with another adult. It was not with a child or anything like that.”

We know this issue goes deeper, however. Texas Health and Human Services said additional documents we requested are confidential by law due to the "sexual-harassment subject matter throughout the complaint documents.”

But his situation brings to light what qualifications are necessary to work with your kids.

Kandice Fricke told us the requirements for being a school counselor within the Corpus Christi Independent School District.

She said that in a public school, being an LPC is not required. However, there are still specific standards, such as a:

  • master's degree
  • counselor's certification from the Texas Education Agency; and,
  • at least two years of successful experience as a classroom teacher.

Fricke says the standards are there to ensure the best people are working with students.

“We're looking at social, emotional, academic areas,” she said. “We're looking at program development. We are really there to support the student and their families and their educational and social-emotional needs.”

We contacted with other districts in the area and they all have the same standards.

At this point, Bonilla remains on suspension.

We tried tracking him down for comment on all this, but never got a response.

When the diocese makes a decision on his work status, we'll let you know.