This article appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of The Classroom Teacher.
The State Board for Educator Certification has authority to sanction educators who abandon their contracts without good cause. In 2021, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2519, which was designed to give SBEC more flexibility when it imposed sanctions for contract abandonment and to allow for less severe sanctions for teachers who resign 30 to 44 days prior to the first day of instruction.
Implementation of this legislation required SBEC to revise its rules. During this amendment period, the board also took the opportunity to expand the circumstances that it would consider to be good cause and mitigating factors to resign from a contract.
Teachers who resign later than 45 days prior to the first day of instruction without good cause and without the consent of their school district are subject to certification sanction if the school board files a complaint with SBEC within 30 days of the educator’s resignation. SBEC has adopted rules that specify that the mandatory minimum sanction for contract abandonment is a one-year suspension of the educator’s certification. The rules also outline what circumstances SBEC considers to be “good cause,” which allows a teacher to resign from a contract without penalty, and other “mitigating factors” that could justify a reduced sanction. The following factors are considered good cause:
(A) serious illness or health condition of the educator or close family member of the educator;
(B) 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
(C) significant change in the educator’s family needs that requires the educator to relocate or to devote more time than allowed by current employment.
The rules also state that the following mitigating factors can be considered when the board is making a decision regarding an educator who has abandoned a contract:
(A) educator gave written notice to school district 30 days or more in advance of the first day of instruction for which the educator will not be present;
(B) educator assisted school district in finding a replacement educator to fill the position;
(C) educator continued to work until the school district hired a replacement educator;
(D) educator assisted in training the replacement educator;
(E) educator showed good faith in communications and negotiations with school district; or
(F) educator provided lesson plans for classes following educator’s resignation.
These rules are still in place and continue to apply to complaints of contract abandonment. The amendments adopted by SBEC are additions to the existing framework.
In recent years, SBEC has been presented with multiple complaints of contract abandonment in which the required imposition of sanctions on an educator’s certificate resulted in an outcome that board members considered unjust or unwarranted. One recurring issue of concern was that teachers were being reported for contract abandonment even though they had been informed by either a district administrator or in an email that their resignation had been accepted.
In some of these cases, evidence existed that the district had failed to communicate to the educator that their resignation was not accepted or that an administrator told the educator they would be released from their contract, even though they did not have the authority to do so.
In other cases, evidence was introduced to show that a teacher had been reported by the district for contract abandonment even though the campus principal had requested the resignation and believed that the teacher’s resignation was in the best interests of the district. The board began to express discomfort over a lack of discretion in its rules to allow for consideration of extenuating circumstances. It also began to note a larger pattern of complaints in which educators said that they were not aware that their certification was at risk of sanction when they considered resignation and that they would not have resigned had they known they were at risk of a complaint being filed with SBEC.
The Texas Legislature was also concerned with SBEC’s lack of flexibility in contract abandonment cases. HB 2519 was passed in 2021 to address this issue and requires the following:
Implementation of HB 2519 required SBEC to amend its rules related to contract abandonment.
NOW PLAYING: TCTA’s Take on Resignations
TCTA staff attorneys review the laws regarding resignations and debunk several myths in a video series updated to reflect changes to the rules regarding sanctions for contract abandonment. Watch beginning May 1.
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The board conducted a work session and invited four stakeholder participants to serve as a panel to discuss the circumstances that would justify a teacher resigning from a contract. In addition to amendments required to implement HB 2519, SBEC was also interested in using this rule-making process to address its ongoing concerns regarding limitations in its discretion to impose sanctions in contract abandonment cases. TCTA participated on the panel and engaged in a robust discussion with the board and other stakeholders about issues faced by teachers who resign from their contracts after the 45-day deadline.
As a result of this work session, SBEC proposed rule changes. Multiple entities reacted strongly to the proposed rules. TCTA supported the changes, while organizations representing school districts and administrators opposed them, arguing that adopting the rules would result in staffing and budgetary complications for school district administrators. More than 80 written comments were submitted regarding the proposed rules, and entities representing administrator groups appeared before SBEC throughout the process to voice their objections. However, SBEC ultimately sided with TCTA and educators and adopted the rules, which were then approved by the State Board of Education.
HB 2519 specified that SBEC, in considering contract abandonment cases, “may consider alternatives to sanctions, including additional continuing education or training.” To give SBEC the authority to do this, the rule was amended to create a sanction category in which SBEC may impose conditions that are not linked to a disciplinary sanction.
The amended rule also clarifies the procedure for a new requirement that SBEC give notice to an educator of “the basis for the suspension” and “information regarding the method in which the teacher may respond to the suspension.”
HB 2519 restricts SBEC from issuing a sanction of suspension or revocation for educators who abandon their contracts with school districts 30 days or more before the first day of instruction for the next school year but made no changes to the deadline for educator resignations.
As always, an educator who resigns 45 days prior to the first day of instruction is not subject to sanctions. However, an educator who resigns 44 to 30 days prior to the first day of instruction may be subject to a mandatory minimum sanction of an inscribed reprimand if no mitigating factors apply. An educator who resigns fewer than 30 days before the first day of instruction or at any point during the school year may be subject to at least a one-year suspension if no mitigating factors apply. In any case in which SBEC determines an educator has good cause for contract abandonment, the educator would not be subject to sanction by SBEC regardless of when the educator resigned.
HB 2519 requires SBEC to consider “any mitigating factors relevant to the teacher’s conduct” prior to imposing a sanction for contract abandonment. Therefore, the new rules provide that SBEC must always review a complaint of contract abandonment to determine whether mitigating factors exist. If SBEC concludes that there were mitigating factors, it must modify the sanction accordingly or decline to impose sanctions altogether.
The definition of good cause for contract abandonment has been expanded by providing that an educator has good cause to resign if they reasonably rely on written permission from school district administration. This amendment is intended to address situations in which an educator has received an email that appears to release them from their contract or is told by their campus principal or another district administrator that they would be released from their contract.
SBEC will decline to take disciplinary action against an educator who resigns and reasonably understands that he or she has received written permission from district administration to do so.
The amendments add three mitigating factors and a catch-all provision that can potentially reduce or eliminate an educator’s sanction for contract abandonment.
The first new mitigating factor applies to an educator who resigns to take a position that amounts to a promotion from one certification class to another or to a more advanced position within the principal certificate class. The amendment applies to a teacher who resigns to accept a position as a librarian, counselor, assistant principal, principal or superintendent. The amendment also applies to an assistant principal who resigns to accept a position as a principal, superintendent or another more senior administrative position that requires a principal or superintendent certificate. This amendment is intended to give educators more flexibility to advance their careers.
The second new mitigating factor allows SBEC to impose a reduced sanction or dismiss a complaint when an educator resigns due to a decrease in the educator’s base pay, excluding stipends, as compared to the prior year in the same school district. This is intended to address situations in which an educator signs a contract with the understanding that their salary will fall into a certain range, but does not learn what their exact salary for the school year will be until after the 45th day before the first day of instruction, when they can no longer resign without penalty.
The third new mitigating factor allows SBEC to impose a reduced sanction or dismiss a complaint for contract abandonment when an educator resigns a contract due to working conditions that reasonably pose an immediate threat of physical harm to the educator. This amendment allows SBEC to reduce the penalty, or decline to impose sanctions altogether, to reflect the severity of the risk of physical harm an educator faced before resigning.
While TEA staff may make recommendations, SBEC retains discretion to determine the final sanction and the amount of reduction in penalty allowed for each mitigating factor.
The goal of HB 2519 and the amended rules is to provide additional flexibility to the State Board for Educator Certification so that it exercises its disciplinary authority in a just and appropriate manner. TCTA believes that prudent application of that authority will result in the ability of qualified educators to remain in the education profession and continue to advance in successful careers in their chosen field.
This article is not a substitute for legal advice. TCTA members with questions about resignations should call the Legal Department at 888-879-8282 for assistance.