Counselor seeks hearing to contest sanctions on her… | TCTA
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Counselor seeks hearing to contest sanctions on her certification

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A complaint was filed with the State Board for Educator Certification against a counselor who resigned from the district. The district claimed that the counselor resigned without the consent of the district and requested that her certification be sanctioned for contract abandonment. The counselor requested a hearing before the State Office of Administrative Hearings to contest the imposition of sanctions on her certification.

At the hearing, the counselor introduced evidence to show that she interviewed for another position within her district as a behavioral specialist. That position, which came with an increased salary, was supposed to start in February. When the principal heard about her interest in the behavioral specialist position, she told the counselor that she would not release her from her contract to allow her to take the position. She then posted the counselor's position as available to be filled. After her position was posted without explanation, the counselor believed her employment would be terminated and began applying for other school counselor positions within the district. She believed her probationary contract allowed her to be let go for any reason. She was, however, never informed she was being fired.

During the time her job was listed as vacant by the principal but she had not been offered the other in-district job, someone from an internship in Houston called her and asked if she was interested. She had applied for this internship before she started working for her current district. She ultimately was offered the job and accepted it. However, she testified that the other job was not the reason she resigned, but rather because she feared that she would be terminated from her current position.

The counselor testified that she trained her replacement, did a handoff with her replacement in every classroom and at every grade level, closed out all but two of her parent meetings, left her replacement with guides and plans, and provided her replacement with her telephone number to use if there were questions. She also testified that she received a letter from her district indicating that if she left before a suitable replacement was found, the district would pursue sanctions against her.

It was undisputed that the counselor had resigned in the middle of the school year.

The administrative law judge found that the counselor had abandoned her contract. In order to resign from an employment contract with a school district during the school year without penalty, a teacher (or counselor) must have the consent of the school district. However, the counselor had presented evidence of several mitigating factors. In particular, she continued to work until her replacement was hired, assisted in training her replacement, and provided lesson plans. She acted in good faith by communicating her intention to resign as soon as she knew that she was going to accept the other job, and her fear of termination was caused by communication failures within the district.

Based on the above factors, the administrative law judge recommended shortening the one-year suspension that is normally imposed when an educator abandons a contract. She recommended that each mitigating factor should shorten the suspension by a month. Because four mitigating factors were established, the ALJ recommended that the board suspend the counselor's educator certificate for eight months. The State Board for Educator Certification accepted this recommendation and suspended the counselor's certification for eight months.