SBEC sanctions principal's certification over alleged threat… | TCTA
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SBEC sanctions principal's certification over alleged threat against teachers

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A complaint was filed against a principal with the State Board for Educator Certification, alleging that his certification should be sanctioned because he stated to a fellow school district employee that he wished he could "shoot the teachers" at the school. The complaint alleged that this behavior violated several provisions of the Texas Administrative Code and the Educator's Code of Ethics. The principal requested a hearing before an administrative law judge.

At the hearing, an instructional facilitator on the campus testified that she and the principal were discussing student-led conferences that were occurring that week. During that conversation, she claimed the principal said he "wished he could just shoot people." She asked if he was kidding and said that he replied, "No, I really should be able to shoot people."

She testified that he went on to say that he wouldn't shoot her; he would just leave her to suffer there. She stated that his demeanor did not appear to be one of humor. She testified that these statements and accompanying demeanor left her in fear for her life. She reported the statements to the superintendent that day. The principal was placed on administrative leave with pay and ultimately resigned from the district.

During his testimony at the hearing, the principal admitted to making the statement about shooting teachers, but insisted it was made in jest and out of frustration. He testified that he abhors guns, does not own one, has never owned one, and has never even fired one.

Several additional witnesses testified to the principal's character. Many of the witnesses, who were teachers, described him as the best principal they had worked for and denied ever seeing him get angry at students, faculty or parents. Although none of the character witnesses were present when the principal made the statement about shooting teachers, each testified that he did not have a reputation for a propensity toward violence, and they did not believe the statement was made as a threat.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the administrative law judge issued a Proposal for Decision that recommended that the principal's certification not be sanctioned. One of the key findings made by the administrative law judge to support this recommendation was that, for the principal's statement to be deemed a threat, the principal must have intended to inflict injury. The administrative law judge concluded that since he did not, the principal's certification was not subject to sanction.

When the State Board for Educator Certification considered the administrative law judge's recommendation, it disagreed and issued an order stating that "the Board's rules do not require that an individual determine whether a threatening person actually intends to inflict injury before it becomes a threat."

Based on that conclusion, it determined that the principal's certificate should be sanctioned and ordered that his certification be suspended for two years. The principal appealed to district court. The district court found that SBEC had improperly overturned the recommendation of the administrative law judge. SBEC appealed this decision and the case was eventually heard by a court of appeals.

The court of appeals noted that Educator's Code of Ethics prohibits educators from making "threats of violence against school district employees, school board members, students, or parents of students." SBEC may sanction educators who violate the Code of Ethics. The court noted that the rule does not require a specific intent; therefore, the Board's interpretation that the rule does not require an intent to cause harm is not contrary to the plain language of the rule and is reasonable. Therefore, the Board did not exceed its authority when it overturned the administrative law judge's recommendation and sanctioned the principal.