Summer 2016

ATPE News is the official publication of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, the largest educator association in Texas. The magazine addresses the most important issues affecting public education in the state. Learn more at

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Page 11 of 43

12 | atpe news your ally. your voice. The most common sanction imposed for a post- due-process determination that a teacher abandoned his or her contract without good cause has been a one-year suspension of teaching credentials. What happens if you are offered a job at another district after the school year has begun–can you give two-weeks' notice and take it? What if you are reassigned to a position that you did not want; can you quit rather than accept it? The answer to these questions depends on whether or not you have an employment contract. The Texas Education Code requires that a public school district employ certain employees, including all classroom teachers and full-time certifed admin- istrators, under a contract. That contract works two ways. First, it creates a legally enforceable promise on the part of the district to employ the contract- ing educator for the term of the contract unless the district proves through the hearing process that it has good cause to terminate the teacher's contract and employment or the teacher resigns to avoid that termination. Second, it creates a legally enforceable promise on the part of the teacher to work for the district through the end of the school year unless the teacher can prove that he or she has good cause to end employment or the district agrees to release the teacher from the contract. Except for a teacher's right to resign before the "penalty-free resignation deadline" 45 days before the frst instructional day of the upcoming school year, the contract requires that either the district or the teacher prove that they have good cause to end the employment unless both parties, teacher and district, mutually agree to end the employment relationship. The district's agreement to let a teacher resign when it's not required to is called a "release" because the district is releasing the teacher from his or her contractual obligations. If an educator leaves employment without a release at a time when simple resignation is not possible, the district cannot force the educator to continue working for the district. However, the district board can rule that the educator left without good cause and can submit a complaint requesting that the State Board for Educator Certifcation (SBEC) sanction the educator for "abandoning" the contract. Usually, the board must authorize the complaint within 30 days of the date the educator quit working in order for SBEC to pursue sanctions. If a timely complaint is fled, Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff will independently investigate to determine whether the educator had good cause to abandon the contract. If TEA staff determines that good cause existed, they can simply dismiss the com- plaint. If, however, they determine that good cause did not exist, they can pursue sanctions through SBEC disciplinary due process hearing procedures. Over the years, through these due process hearings, a body of law has developed that defnes what is and is not considered good cause. Recently, SBEC codifed these decisions and informal practices into the board's offcial rules. While each situation is decided on its individual facts, SBEC rules now list what is good cause to abandon a contract. These rules include: • serious illness or health condition of the educator or close family member of the educator; • relocation to a new city as a result of change in employer of the educator's spouse or partner who resides with the educator; or • a signifcant change in the educator's family needs that requires the educator to relocate or to devote more time than allowed by current employment. Educators should note that two things are not included in this list. First, a job offer, even a promotion, is not considered good cause to abandon a contract. While a district might have a local practice of granting a release for a promotion, that is a local decision. SBEC has historically refused to accept career advancement as good cause to abandon a contract and has sanctioned educators who leave without a release from the district under these circumstances. Second, a change in the educator's job or benefts, even a signifcant one, is not included in the list. ATPE lobbied SBEC to include signifcant changes to a position, such as an unwanted reas- signment or a substantial change in benefts, such as signifcantly lowering an educator's salary, in the list of good causes, but SBEC refused to do so. This is noteworthy because recent decisions by the commissioner of education have made it easier for a school district to lower an educator's salary without clear notice that it is going to happen. Historically, the most common sanction imposed for a post-due-process determination that a teacher KNOW YOUR CONTRACT RIGHTS by Paul Tapp, ATPE Member Legal Services Managing Attorney

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