Conference Time and Duty-Free Lunch
What are your rights?
Conference time: Planning and prep
The Texas Education Code provides that all classroom teachers are entitled to conference time. The code defines a classroom teacher as a certified educator who teaches for at least an average of four hours per day in an academic instructional setting or in a career and technology setting.
Each classroom teacher is entitled to at least 450 minutes within each two-week period for instructional preparation, including parent-teacher conferences, evaluating students’ work, and planning. A planning and preparation period under this section may not be less than 45 minutes within the instructional day. During a planning and preparation period, a classroom teacher may not be required to participate in any other activity.
Some districts have opted out of the requirements of Section 21.404 as a part of their District of Innovation plans. While these districts may still provide planning time, the specific requirements and limitations described below may not apply in every district. To see if your district is a District of Innovation and to find a link to districts’ innovation plans, visit tea.texas.gov/Texas_Schools/District_Initiatives/Districts_of_Innovation.
The commissioner of education has interpreted the law to provide teachers with a great deal of discretion in how to use their time.
“The purpose of the planning and preparation period is to allow teachers ‘time to engage in parent-teacher conferences, reviewing students’ homework, and planning and preparation as the teacher, not the administration, deems best. The statute clearly relieves the teacher of any duty during this period of time and prohibits the district and its administration from requiring the teacher to engage in any other activity the administration determines to be useful and important."
Strater v. Houston ISD (1986)
The commissioner has determined that the instructional schedule at the school to which the teacher is assigned determines the instructional day.
“The term "instructional day" as used in Texas Education Code section 21.404 is interpreted to mean the time when students are receiving instruction at the school where the teacher is located. Hence, planning and preparation time must occur during the time that students at the school where the teacher is located are receiving instruction.”
Canutillo Educator’s Association v. Canutillo ISD (2010)
The commissioner of education has also determined that a teacher cannot give up the teacher’s legally required planning time to perform another duty, such as teaching an extra class—even if the teacher is doing so voluntarily.
“There is no exception provided for teaching duties performed during the planning and preparation period. Performance of teaching duties during the planning and preparation duties is not permitted by the Education Code and is not an exception to the Chapter 21 teacher contract requirement.”
Bledsoe v. Huntington ISD (2014)
- Except as provided by Subsection (c), each classroom teacher or full-time librarian is entitled to at least a 30-minute lunch period free from all duties and responsibilities connected with the instruction and supervision of students. Each school district may set flexible or rotating schedules for each classroom teacher or full-time librarian in the district for the implementation of the duty-free lunch period.
- The implementation of this section may not result in a lengthened school day.
- If necessary because of personnel shortage, extreme economic conditions, or an unavoidable or unforeseen circumstance, a school district may require a classroom teacher or librarian entitled to a duty-free lunch to supervise students during lunch. A classroom teacher or librarian may not be required to supervise students under this subsection more than one day in any school week. The commissioner by rule shall prescribe guidelines for determining what constitutes a personnel shortage, extreme economic conditions, or an unavoidable or unforeseen circumstance for purposes of this subsection.
A common question is whether a school district can refuse to provide a classroom teacher duty-free lunch during state-mandated testing. Although a fairly common practice, this specific question has never been appealed to the commissioner, so it remains unanswered. However, the commissioner of education has—in denying an educator’s appeal regarding the denial of duty-free lunch—has stated that he does not have jurisdiction over a “one-time denial” of duty-free lunch. (Ghori v. Houston ISD ).
Published/reviewed: January 23, 2020
The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication. It is provided here is for informative purposes only. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Please note: Rights based on the Texas Education Code may not apply to all. Many Texas Education Code provisions do not apply to public charter schools, and public school districts may have opted out of individual provisions through a District of Innovation plan. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department.