Teaching is a tough and demanding profession, with teachers working long hours without the recognition and appreciation they deserve. To make matters worse, the profession is facing tougher challenges and licensing reviews in Texas. If you are a teacher facing disciplinary action in Texas, you need a strong and effective defense that will provide the best outcome possible. The Lento Law Firm Team understands professional licensing and education law and understands how difficult it can be to defend yourself against unfounded accusations of misconduct.
The Lento Law Firm Team represents teachers, and in Texas, that term includes a number of other educators, including librarians, administrators, counselors, and paraprofessionals—any person who holds and must defend a certification or license. Educators most often face disciplinary actions based on the following accusations:
- Accusations of an inappropriate romantic or sexual relationship with a student or child.
- Accusations of drug or alcohol abuse.
- Accusations of an assault or harm to a student.
- Other accusations of unethical conduct.
If you are accused of misconduct, you must fight to clear your name. Even if you are able to resign, you may face placement on the Do Not Hire List or otherwise face harm to your reputation. If your license is suspended or revoked, assumptions may be made that will follow you for the remainder of your life. You simply cannot let the accusations sit and become part of a disciplinary record.
Allegations of Sexual Misconduct More Common
Investigations into inappropriate teacher-student relationships have increased dramatically in recent years. During the 2018 to 2019 fiscal year, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) tracked 442 inappropriate relationships. In 2020, the Texas Legislature passed the Do Not Hire List law, which creates a list of certified and non-certified prior employees who are not eligible for hire as educators in Texas. Placement on this List may have a profoundly negative effect on your future career options and reputation.
Disciplinary Actions by SBEC
The Texas State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) can take the following actions against a teacher or educator accused of misconduct:
- Restriction on issuance of license.
- Restriction on renewal of license.
- Restriction on teaching certificate, either indefinitely or short term.
- Reprimand (inscribed or noninscribed).
- Suspension of a certificate for set time or indefinitely.
- Revocation or cancelation of a license (including surrender without the opportunity for reapplication).
- Additional conditions or restrictions as SBEC deems necessary.
Principles of SBEC
The primary purposes of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) are to:
- protect the safety and welfare of Texas schoolchildren and school personnel.
- ensure educators are morally fit and worthy to instruct.
- fairly and efficiently resolve educator disciplinary proceedings.
Conduct Which May Lead to Discipline
SBEC may take disciplinary action against an educator for the following reasons:
- The educator has been charged with a violation of law.
- The educator has been accused of conduct that may place the worthiness of the person to instruct or supervise children in question.
- The educator has committed a Code of Ethics violation.
- The educator has failed to report child abuse or has failed to report a relevant criminal history as required by law or Board rules.
- The educator has abandoned a contract.
- The educator has failed to cooperate with a Board investigation.
- The educator has been convicted of a crime “directly related to the duties and responsibilities of the education profession.”
- The educator has violated the security or integrity of a state assessment.
Mandatory permanent revocation or denial.
The SBEC is required to permanently revoke a teaching certificate for the following reasons:
- An educator is found to have engaged in sexual contact or a romantic relationship with a student or minor.
- An educator is found to have solicited sexual contact or a romantic relationship with a student or minor.
- An educator possessed or distributed child pornography.
- An educator was required to register as a sex offender.
- An educator committed criminal homicide.
- An educator transferred, sold, distributed, or conspired to possess, transfer, sell, or distribute any controlled substance.
- An educator intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to a student or minor in the absence of a defense.
Investigation by the Texas Education Agency (TEA)
The Texas Education Agency will investigate allegations of misconduct made against a teacher or educator. Mandatory reporting must now be done by multiple parties under the 2020 Do Not Hire Registry law, and this may result in an investigation. TEA will generally give notice to the party being investigated and will conduct the investigation. If the educator is found to be innocent, or if the allegations cannot be substantiated, the TEA will administratively close the investigation. If the allegations are substantiated, the matter will go forward for discipline and registry under Texas law. It is vital that an individual under investigation contact and secure legal counsel as soon as possible.
Factors to Consider in Teacher Allegations
The following factors may be considered in seeking, proposing, or deciding on appropriate discipline or action against a teacher or educator:
- The seriousness of the allegations.
- Whether misconduct was premeditated or intentional.
- Concealment of conduct.
- Prior misconduct or sanctions, if any.
- Potential danger the conduct poses to students.
- Effect of prior conduct upon any victims of the conduct.
- Passage of time and evidence of rehabilitation.
- The moral character of the educator.
- Deterrence of future violations by other parties.
- Any other relevant information.
Do Not Hire Registry List
Since 2020, the Do Not Hire Registry lists persons ineligible for rehire as teachers or educators in Texas because of past misconduct. The Registry lists individuals who lost teaching credentials due to an inappropriate relationship with a student or minor. It will also list non-teachers who were found to have committed an unlawful act with a student or minor. Lastly, the Registry will list individuals found ineligible for employment for a variety of other reasons. These other reasons may involve the possession or use of a controlled substance, the illegal use of school funds or property, or any criminal offense committed on school property.
Requirement That Principals Report to Superintendents
Principals must now report the conduct of teachers and other personnel to the Superintendent under the Do Not Hire Registry law. It is not possible to avoid this reporting through a resignation prior to discipline, as administrators are required to report allegations of misconduct if they lead to the resignation of an employee. If a teacher is terminated, or resigns to avoid termination, the principal must now report this conduct if there is evidence that the teacher:
- Abused or committed an unlawful act with a student or minor.
- Was involved in a romantic relationship or solicited or engaged in a sexual act with a student or minor.
- Possessed or sold illegal drugs and/or controlled substances.
- Misappropriated or illegally spent school money or property.
- Committed educator certificate fraud.
- Committed any crime on school property or at a school-sponsored event.
The question is whether misappropriating school funds or committing a misdemeanor on school property could lead to placement on the Do Not Hire List. While members of the public may search this list and assume that anyone on the list engaged in predatory behavior, something as simple as sloppy bookkeeping for a fundraiser might create the need to place an educator on this List. The obvious concern is that placement on the List might be assumed to involve a sexual or romantic relationship with an underage student, while in reality, any number of legal or ethical issues might result in placement on the List.
Notice of Placement on Do Not Hire Registry
If you get any sort of notice that you are under investigation or being reported to TEA or the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), it is vital that you seek legal counsel immediately. Those individuals placed on this Registry will have a short period in which to file a grievance or to remove false or erroneous information. If you delay, you may lose your job, and you may be found ineligible for work as an educator in Texas at any future time. Further, the placement on this Registry may carry a significant stigma and may be misleading.
Informal Resolution by TEA
TEA may resolve a case prior to the hearing. A case may be handled through waiver, stipulation, settlement, compromise, consent order, or other informal resolution at any time.
Filing a Chapter 21 Appeal
Following a decision not to renew the teacher's contract, a party may file a Chapter 21 Appeal within 20 calendar days.
Pursuant to Texas Education Code Subchapter F, Section 21.251, an educator or teacher can request a hearing after receiving notice of the proposed decision to terminate the teacher's continuing contract or to suspend the teacher without pay.
Stages of Hearing and Appeal
Stage 1: Investigation by TEA
The first stage of disciplinary action involving a teacher is the investigation stage. The TEA will investigate allegations against a teacher or educator in Texas. In cases involving serious or criminal allegations, this investigation will be quite formal.
Stage 2: Hearing
Any teacher or educator facing disciplinary action will have a right to a Hearing provided under the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings. The Hearing is your opportunity to tell your side of the story and to defend your teaching license. To be really effective, a teacher or educator should be represented by legal counsel at this Hearing.
Stage 3: Appeal
If you are dissatisfied with the decision of the Hearing Officer, you may go forward with an appeal in court.
Answer to Petition under Section 249.27
A teacher or educator must file an Answer to a petition or proposed action and must request a hearing. This Answer:
- Must be filed within 30 days.
- Contains a rebuttable presumption that the petition was served no later than 5 calendar days after mailing.
- Must contain the name, address, telephone number, and email (or fax) for respondent and for respondent's representative, if any.
- Papers should be served by US Mail, return receipt requested, or first-class mail.
- The answer must admit or deny each allegation and must plead all affirmative defenses.
- All well-pled allegations are deemed admitted if not denied in the answer. (A general denial is not adequate.)
DWIs and Teaching Credentials
Driving while intoxicated (DWI) can negatively impact teaching certification in Texas. Of particular concern are DWIs where:
- A minor is involved in some way. This might be as a passenger in a vehicle driven by a teacher or in a traffic collision or accident.
- The DWI occurred on school property or at a school-sponsored event. If the arrest for DWI occurred after a school party, athletic event, or other school event or occurred at the school, it is more serious.
- The DWI involved a controlled substance, or transfer or sale of a controlled substance. Any DWI involving illegal drug use is more serious and more likely to impact a teaching license.
- The DWI is a felony. If the DWI is the second in a 12-month period or if it otherwise is a felony, it will impact the teaching credentials of the party charged with felony DWI.
If you cannot remain in your teaching position until the end of the academic year, you will need to notify the school district of the necessity of breaking your contract. In cases of extreme hardship, this can be handled quickly with the school district. In other situations, however, it can be difficult to leave your position. You should give as much notice as possible and discuss the matter with legal counsel before an early resignation.
The Lento Law Firm Represents Teachers Throughout Texas
The Lento Law Firm represents teachers from Dallas, Houston, Austin, and throughout Texas. We can help whether you are employed with a local school district or with a private or charter school. We understand that the culture of a community will be reflected in schools and educational decisions of local administrators. The Lento Law Firm's Professional License Defense Team will lead the defense of your license, negotiating with the State and otherwise seeking the best possible resolution to your case. Call us today at 888-535-3686 or submit your details online, and we will contact you.