Fall 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 15 of 43

16 ATPE NEWS ATPE HAS SERIOUS CONCERNS THAT THE DISTRICT OF INNOVATION DESIGNATION PUTS PUBLIC SCHOOL EMPLOYEES' RIGHTS AT RISK BY ALLOWING DISTRICTS TO ELIMINATE PRIVILEGES AND PROTECTIONS THAT THEY HAVE COME TO EXPECT UNDER THE TEXAS EDUCATION CODE. BY ALLISON CUNNINGHAM, ATPE STAFF ATTORNEY What You Need to Know about Districts of Innovation T he controversial new District of Innovation (DOI) designation allows school districts to claim exemptions from many state laws that affect public education. Enacted during the 2015 Texas Legislative Session via House Bill 1842, Chapter 12A of the Texas Education Code (TEC) allows districts rated acceptable or higher to initiate the process to become DOIs. Designation as a DOI allows a district to seek exemptions from certain sections of the Texas Education Codeā€”the collection of statutes that govern public school ad- ministration in Texas. Among the provisions a Among the provisions a DOI may opt out of are duty-free lunch periods for classroom teachers, maximum class size, educator certification requirements, teacher contracts, and length of contracts, and length of school day. The ability school day. The ability to opt out of TEC provi- sions is not unlimited, however. DOIs may not opt out of curriculum re- quirements, state testing, and district governance, among other provisions. Proponents of the new law believe that DOI des- ignation will give districts the flexibility they need to make the best decisions for their unique cir- cumstances. However, ATPE has serious concerns that the designation puts public school employ- ees' rights at risk by allowing districts to eliminate privileges and protections that they have come to expect under the TEC. We have voiced these con- cerns in front of both the Texas House and Senate. How Does a District Become a DOI? Qualifying districts seeking designation as DOIs must go through several steps before officially be- coming DOIs. These steps include creating an in- novation plan outlining proposed curriculum and assessment measures, posting that plan on the district website for at least 30 days, holding public hearings seeking community input, obtaining ap- proval by two-thirds vote of the elected board of trustees, and notifying the commissioner of educa- tion, Mike Morath, of their DOI status. Approval by Commissioner Morath is not separately required, however. Districts that complete the DOI process retain their status as DOIs for five years. At the time of writing, 23 districts have notified Commissioner Morath of their pro- posed innovation plans: Big Spring, Canton, Dripping Springs, El Paso, Grand Prairie, G r u ve r, H a r l i n g e n , Kaufman, Keene, Los Fresnos, Lytle, Mabank, Mansfield, Northside, Palmer, Point Isabel, Red Oak, Roscoe Collegiate, San Antonio, Slidell, Spring Branch, Terrell, and Victoria. Each dis- trict's innovation plan is different, and of those seeking exemptions, each has sought different ones, ranging from earli- er start dates to maximum class size. What Can You Do about It? If your district is among the 23 that have elected to become DOIs, you may reach out to your district to request a copy of the local innovation plan that each DOI must propose to see which, if any, provi- sions of the TEC your district has elected to opt out of. If your district is considering becoming a DOI, you should familiarize yourself with the specifics of your district's proposed innovation plan, get in- volved by asking for explanations for each exemp- tion sought, and take advantage of opportunities to give public input. continued on page 40 YOUR ALLY

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