SBEC revokes teacher's certification over misconduct with a… | TCTA
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SBEC revokes teacher's certification over misconduct with a student

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A complaint was filed against a seventh grade teacher with the State Board for Educator Certification, alleging that the teacher's certificate should be sanctioned based on inappropriate behavior with a student. The teacher requested a hearing regarding that complaint at the State Office of Administrative Hearings.

During the hearing, the administrative law judge found that a 12-year-old described as "Student A" was in the teacher's math class and study hall. During the year, the teacher and the student regularly interacted. Student A was "friendly, helpful, and polite to" the teacher, and the teacher "frequently said that Student A was his favorite student." The teacher once showed another student that Student A was his favorite by erasing that student's name and writing Student A's name in its place.

Student A's mother met with school administrators and reported that the teacher's actions made Student A feel very uncomfortable. She asked that Student A be removed from the teacher's class. The school reassigned Student A to another teacher's math class for the remainder of the school year.

School administrators met with the teacher and gave him directives to avoid contact with Student A and her mother. These directives greatly upset the teacher, who wanted to discuss the matter with Student A's parents. After the directives were issued, the teacher saw Student A's parents at a supermarket; each said hello. The teacher and the student's mother also exchanged several text messages. In one exchange, the mother told the teacher that the family wanted no contact with him.

When the new school year began, Student A was in the eighth grade. Despite the principal's instruction to have no contact with Student A or the family, the teacher had several interactions during the first month of school with Student A, including:

  • He stood next to Student A at an all-school assembly.
  • As Student A once passed the teacher in the hall, he quietly whispered, "Say hi."
  • When the teacher was performing lunch duty, he sometimes talked to students who sat next to Student A.
  • The teacher spoke to another student sitting next to Student A and said he missed his former students, including "one student in particular."
  • Student A worked in the school's office. The teacher was frequently in the school's office when Student A worked. The teacher once told someone in the office that he had lost a lot of weight since the date Student A's mother met with school officials. The teacher also once approached the desk in the office where Student A sat, and said to no one directly, "I really need to talk to someone's parents."
  • Student A told the teacher to contact the parents by phone.
  • The teacher sometimes waved to Student A's mother as she drove in the line to pick up the student.
  • The teacher and Student A's mother sent text messages to each other.

Despite a previous recommendation from the principal to not discuss the situation with Student A with school staff, the teacher discussed and sent messages to another teacher about the matter. Among other things, the teacher told a colleague the following:

  • Tutoring Student A again "would be a dream come true".
  • Student A was "like a daughter" to him.
  • The teacher wanted to communicate with Student A's parents to seek closure.
  • The teacher planned to go to the car pick-up line when he was not on duty so that he could wave to Student A's mother as she drove by.
  • Student A had waved and smiled at the teacher, and that made him very happy.

The colleague reported these communications to the assistant principal and the teacher received a second set of directives to not have any contact with Student A or her parents and to not discuss the matter with other staff members. The teacher violated these directives by attempting to discuss the matter again with his colleague and he was placed on administrative leave with pay. The teacher resigned a week later.

The administrative law judge determined there was no evidence that the teacher ever had sex with, made sexual advances toward, or used sexual language with Student A or any other child. There was no evidence that the teacher had sexual feelings for Student A. There was no evidence that the teacher and Student A had a romantic relationship or that the teacher solicited such a relationship. No prior complaint was ever filed against the teacher.

Following the hearing, the administrative law judge found that the teacher had violated the Code of Ethics with his conduct and recommended that he receive a non-inscribed reprimand on his teaching certificate.

When the State Board for Educator Certification held its hearing to consider the administrative law judge's recommendation and issue a final order, Student A and her parents appeared in person. Student A's parents addressed SBEC members and read prepared statements requesting permanent revocation of the teacher's certification. Student A stood at her mother's side as the mother tearfully addressed the board.

A representative for SBEC recommended that the board accept the administrative law judge's findings and conclusions, except that the teacher's license should be suspended for two years. Counsel for the teacher also made a statement to SBEC which he pointed out that the statement from the parents did not constitute evidence.

A board member then offered her opinion that based on the findings of fact there was "no question" that the teacher was exhibiting "grooming behaviors" and "incapable of following a directive to stay away from a student, and who brought harm to a student." She proposed a motion that SBEC permanently revoke the teacher's certification. SBEC voted in favor of that motion and ordered that the teacher's certification be permanently revoked.

In the order, SBEC found that the teacher's repeated conduct was flagrant, premeditated and intentional, and that he concealed his conduct from school administrators. SBEC referred to the findings of fact that the teacher's conduct made Student A feel uncomfortable, afraid and upset, and was thus potentially dangerous to the health and welfare of students and detrimental to the student victim of the conduct.

SBEC also stated that the teacher's repeated violation of the directives regarding prohibited student contact were indicative of grooming behavior and that the teacher's repeated violations showed that he was not able to rehabilitate himself, and "required a stronger sanction than the non-inscribed reprimand the administrative law judge recommended."

Finally, SBEC determined that a permanent revocation of the teaching certificate would "better deter other Texas educators from violating school district directives and policies than a non-inscribed reprimand."

The teacher filed an appeal of SBEC's decision to district court, arguing that

  1. SBEC improperly permitted Student A and her parents to appear and allowed the parents to speak at the hearing;
  2. No evidence supported SBEC's statement that the teacher engaged in grooming behavior; and
  3. The punishment (revocation of a license) did not fit the crime (violating school policy).

The district court agreed with the teacher and reversed SBEC's order. SBEC appealed this decision.

The court of appeals noted that SBEC rules permit parties to make an oral argument before it issues an opinion and that the public is permitted to speak about items that are on the agenda. The parents did not present new evidence that differed from the findings of fact presented at the hearing. Therefore, SBEC did not violate the law when it permitted Student A and her parents to speak.

The court of appeals also found that it did not matter whether or not the teacher engaged in grooming behavior because it was undisputed that the teacher repeatedly violated directives regarding the student in violation of the Code of Ethics, which in itself is grounds for sanctions. The court also found that SBEC had the discretion to determine what sanction was appropriate.

The court of appeals overturned the decision of the district court and held that SBEC's decision to permanently revoke the teacher's certification was lawful.