Teacher sues charter school for breach of contract | TCTA
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Gavel, law books and scales of justice

Teacher sues charter school for breach of contract

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A teacher was employed at an open-enrollment charter school. The teacher received a handbook that explicitly stated that he was an at-will employee. The teacher signed an acknowledgment that he had read the handbook. One day at school, the teacher intervened to break up a fight between two students and was placed on administrative leave for his use of excessive force during that incident. The school later terminated the teacher's employment for use of excessive force.

The teacher sued the charter school for breach of contract. In doing so, he argued that since charter schools enjoy the same kind of immunity from suit as traditional public schools, they also need to comply with the laws that govern traditional public schools. Since teachers in traditional public schools are required to be employed under contracts, then a contract must exist in relation to him and the charter school because he was a classroom teacher. The charter school responded that it was immune from suit and that there was no contract in place that would overcome that immunity. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit and the teacher appealed.

The court of appeals agreed with the teacher that generally speaking, public schools are required to employ teachers pursuant to teacher contracts. It also agreed that both traditional public schools and open-enrollment charter schools are immune from suit. However, this does not mean that the charter school is required to employ a teacher pursuant to a contract. State law provides that an open-enrollment charter school is subject to the Texas Education Code only to a limited extent. The provision that requires schools to employ teachers pursuant to a contract does not apply to charter schools. Additionally, in order to argue breach of contract against a governmental entity (including a school district), the party claiming a breach must in fact have entered into a contract that has been properly executed on behalf of the entity. In this case, the teacher did not have a written employment contract with the charter school, much less one that had been approved by the school's board of directors.

The teacher did not dispute that there was no written contract. Instead, he made a policy argument that his employment should have been governed by a written contract. According to the teacher, the charter school should not be allowed to "accept the protection afforded to (traditional) public schools under the law" without being subject to the same requirements — including Education Code Chapter 21's requirement that all classroom teachers must be employed via contract. But governmental immunity can only be overcome by statutory authority, not a policy argument. The court of appeals upheld the district court's decision to dismiss the lawsuit.