Winter 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 Recent Changes in Disciplinary Rules Can Put Educators' Jobs in Jeopardy Unfortunately, teachers have been showing up in the news in record numbers for the wrong rea- sons. As public attention on teacher conduct in- creases, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is responding by tightening rules relating to disciplining certified educators for miscon- duct. These changes apply to both how educators perform their professional duties and educators' personal lives. Since many educators are likely unaware of these changes, we wanted to describe them. Student-Teacher Communications All educators know that an inappropriate rela- tionship with a student can lead to a loss of job and career and, in many cases, criminal prose- cution. SBEC has long believed that inappro- priate communication is the precursor to an inappropriate relationship. In an effort to stop inappropriate relationships before they start, SBEC has heightened both the scrutiny and the consequences of communica- tion deemed inappropriate, even where there is no physical relationship. "Inappropriate commu- nication with a student" has been added to the list of Priority 1 allegations that require an immediate flag on an educator's virtual certificate. Districts are also now required to report an educator who has resigned or been terminated if there is any ev- idence that the educator (a) "engaged in a roman- tic relationship," which may involve only com- munication, or ( b) "solicited" sexual contact with a student, which again may involve nothing but communication. Educators must recognize that even "soliciting a romantic relationship," which could mean only flirting, requires mandatory permanent revocation of the educator's certificate under the SBEC rules. Mandatory Sanctions for Drugs and Alcohol In a recent controversial move, SBEC approved new rules that require a minimum one-year sus- pension of a teacher who is "subject to sanction" because the educator "tested positive for drugs or alcohol while on school campus, was under the influence of drugs or alcohol on school campus, or was in pos- session of drugs or alco- hol on school campus." Although it's not imme- diately obvious, the word "illegal" is missing from the new rule. When the rule was proposed, ATPE raised concerns, point- ing out that educators may be under the influ- ence or in possession of legally prescribed drugs. In response, Texas Education Agency staff stated that an educator in possession of, under the influence of, or testing positive for legally pre- scribed drugs would not be considered "subject to sanction." However, they stopped short of clarify- ing the rule by adding the term "illegal." Mandatory Sanctions for Criminal Convictions or Admissions Finally, SBEC recently adopted rules estab- lishing minimum certification sanctions in cases where an educator has pled guilty or accepted a de- ferred adjudication or some other type of pretrial resolution of a criminal charge beyond a simple dismissal of the charge, even where the charges are ultimately dismissed or where prosecution does not relate to the educator's job or profession. The rules are too complex to detail here, but it is PAUL TAPP ATPE Managing Attorney What You Don't Know Can Hurt You YOUR ALLY THE STATE BOARD FOR EDUCATOR CERTIFICATION HAS TIGHTENED RULES RELATING TO DISCIPLINING CERTIFIED EDUCATORS FOR MISCONDUCT. continued on page 40

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