TCTA | SBEC sanctions teacher's certificate over contract abandonment
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SBEC sanctions teacher's certificate over contract abandonment

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A complaint was filed with the State Board for Educator Certification, alleging that a teacher's certificate was subject to sanctions for contract abandonment. The teacher requested a hearing before the State Office of Administrative Hearings.

On July 4, 2019, the teacher's wife fell off a ladder. Although she did not suffer any broken bones, she was instructed by her doctor to minimize bending, lifting and twisting. On July 31, 2019, the teacher signed a contract with HISD for the upcoming school year. He later tendered a resignation, effective immediately, on Aug. 23, 2019. On his resignation notice, he stated that his reason for resigning was "other position." The first day of school was Aug. 26, 2019.

At the hearing, the teacher testified that when his wife fell off the ladder, it aggravated existing back issues. She was unable to do things around the house, and even sitting and lying down were painful for her. The teacher learned about a long-term substitute position at a school that was closer to home. Although the position paid approximately $20,000 less than the position at HISD, the teacher decided it to accept it because it would allow him to help his wife around the house.

The teacher did not tell anyone at HISD about his home situation, because he considered it a personal issue. He testified that if someone at HISD had informed him that his resignation was putting his certification at risk, he would have worked out a different solution. He argued that he had a good reason to abandon his contract because of an exception to the rules for contract abandonment that state that a teacher may not be sanctioned for contract abandonment if the teacher experiences a significant change in family needs that requires more time than allowed by the employment contract.

The administrative law judge presiding over the hearing noted that teachers are required to resign from their districts no later than 45 days before school starts. If there is a written complaint by a school district that a teacher resigned after this deadline without the district's consent, a teacher may be sanctioned by the State Board for Educator Certification unless the teacher can show that they had good cause to resign.

The teacher argued that HISD did not inquire as to why he was resigning and did not inform him that he could be subject to sanctions. The administrative law judge noted that a school district is not required to do this. Therefore, the issue is whether the teacher had good cause to abandon his contract.

A teacher has good cause to abandon a contract when the educator experiences a significant change in family needs that requires the educator to devote more time than allowed by current employment. Although the teacher's wife fell from the ladder before he signed his contract with HISD, he expected her to heal and resume regular activities and did not become aware of the extent of her needs until later. By taking the new position, he gained three to four hours per workday to assist her.

The administrative law judge concluded based on the teacher's testimony that he had good cause to abandon his contract and recommended that SBEC not sanction his certification for contract abandonment. However, SBEC members rejected that recommendation and found that the teacher did not have good cause to abandon his contract. The board ordered that the teacher's credentials be suspended for one year.