Educator Resignations and Requests for Contract Release
Your rights if you choose to quit your job
A resignation is an employee’s voluntary decision to quit a job or a duty. This is in contrast to a termination, which is the employer’s decision. As discussed below, not all resignations are completely voluntary. A person can feel compelled or forced to submit a resignation; however, when an employee chooses to quit, even if they honestly feel they did not have any real choice, it is a resignation. Also, not all employees have the same rights regarding resignations, and the timing of a resignation can be very important—particularly for certified teachers and other educators under contract with a district.
- Date of submission versus effective date: There are two separate dates that are important but mean very different things when submitting a resignation or request for release. The first is the date the resignation or request is actually physically submitted—i.e., the date the educator turns in their resignation letter or request for release. The second is the date the letter says the resignation will be effective—which can be far into the future. For example, a teacher can submit a resignation on the first day of school, stating that they are resigning effective the last day of school. In this case, the district can accept the resignation, and it may be held irrevocable (in other words, the district can refuse to allow the teacher to “change their mind and stay”). But the teacher’s right to their job and the benefits that go along with it remain the same for the rest of the school year because the resignation is not “effective” until the end of the year.
- Resignation versus contract release: A contract works two ways. It creates a legally enforceable promise on the part of the district to employ the contracting teacher for the term of the contract, unless the district proves it has good cause to terminate the teacher’s contract and employment, or the teacher resigns. It also creates a legally enforceable promise on the teacher’s part to work for the district until the end of the school year unless the teacher can prove that they have good cause to end their employment or the district agrees to release them from the contract. The contract limits both parties’ ability to unilaterally end the employment relationship.
A certified educator’s contract guarantees the district will employ the educator until the district goes through a specific process required by the Texas Education Code to end the employment (termination or nonrenewal). It also guarantees the educator will work for the district unless they go through the process required by law to end their employment. These resignation requirements vary depending upon the timing and reason for the resignation. The most common scenarios are:
- Resignations effective during the school year: Because the contract is a legally enforceable promise by the educator to work for the entire school year, an educator cannot resign during the school year without the district’s agreement to accept the resignation and release the educator from their remaining contract obligation. Resigning without this acceptance and release can lead to a complaint that the educator “abandoned” their contract and could lead to the certification sanctions described below.
If the district agrees to release the educator from the contract, the educator is free to go. Educators should be sure the person telling them they can resign has the authority to do so. Most districts have authorized the superintendent to accept resignations, and many have authorized the human resources director. However, few, if any, have authorized the district’s principals to accept resignations. What this means is that it is not safe to rely on the principal saying that you can resign.
Although a school district cannot force educators to continue to work by refusing to release them from their contracts, the district can file a complaint with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) stating that an educator has abandoned their contract without good cause and request that the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) sanction the educator’s certificate. Whether an educator is actually sanctioned will depend on the reason the educator left and what actions the educator took to minimize disruption to the district and students.
- Resignations effective at the end of the school year: An educator is always free to resign effective the end of the school year. It does not matter what the reason is, and the district cannot refuse to accept the resignation. In fact, as described in more detail below, educators should be very careful not to submit a resignation effective the end of the school year until they are sure they want to resign because once submitted, it will usually be impossible to “take back” or rescind.
- Resignations effective before the beginning of the next school year: Educators often get job offers after accepting a contract for the upcoming school year and may wonder whether they can accept a new offer because they have already signed a contract. The Texas Education Code provides that an educator can freely resign their employment without penalty as long as they submit their resignation at least 45 calendar days before the first instructional day at the district. After that date, an educator may be penalized if they leave without being released by their district. A resignation submitted after the 45-calendar-day deadline but at least 30 calendar days before the first instructional day may subject an educator to an inscribed reprimand on their certificate. A resignation submitted within 30 calendar days of the first instructional day may result in SBEC suspending the educator’s certificate for a year. The code states that the resignation should be addressed to the board of trustees or the board’s designee (often the superintendent) and should be mailed via certified mail, return receipt requested, so the educator has proof the resignation was submitted and received and when.
Non-certified staff and charter school employees
The Texas Education Code provides many of the specific legal rules that regulate the “how and when” for resignations, but these rules apply only to contracts between certified educators and regular independent school districts. Because the education code is largely silent on other contracts, it is generally up to the district or charter school to establish when and how the contract employee can resign. So, how and when a school district’s noncertified contract staff, such as a business manager or transportation director, or a charter school’s contract staff, including certified teachers, can resign will be largely determined by local policy. Generally, a resignation effective during the term of the contract will require the district’s acceptance and release.
It often seems that at-will staff (those employed without contracts or whose contracts allow either party to terminate their employment at any time and for any reason) are always “on the short end of the stick” with fewer rights and protections than contract staff. But this is one area where not having a contract is actually an advantage. An at-will employee is free to resign at any time for any reason. Although two weeks’ advance notice is generally considered professionally appropriate and may be a good idea for future references, it is not required. Similarly, though a written notice of resignation is considered professionally appropriate, an at-will employee can legally simply stop going to work without a word to anyone. Of course, this fact illustrates why it is important for staff, particularly at-will staff, to keep their employers well informed about absences. If not, the district might just assume you quit and replace you.
Teachers and other educators employed under a contract must usually request a release from their contractual obligations if they wish to resign during the school year. (Note that some contracts, particularly at charter schools and for noncertified administrative staff, may be at-will contracts that allow an employee to resign at any time.) If a request for release is necessary, the educator who wishes to resign should submit a request for release instead of a simple resignation to avoid the possible sanctions described in the next section.
The district is under no legal obligation to grant a release, though the reason for the request is invariably considered and the district is practically if not technically required to grant a release if the educator clearly has good cause to leave, such as a serious medical condition that leaves the educator unable to continue working. Even if a release is not granted, the educator can still leave—the district cannot compel the educator to continue showing up every morning—but the district can pursue sanctions for “contract abandonment” as described in the next section.
Often, the superintendent has the authority to grant a release, though rarely, if ever, does a campus principal have this authority, so a principal’s opinion will matter only so far as the superintendent and board wish it to.
Commonly, an educator will be advised they will be released when the district finds a suitable replacement. Unfortunately, the district is under no obligation to actively search for a replacement and can be “picky” about whether an available replacement is suitable.
If an educator leaves employment without a release at a time when they cannot simply resign, the district cannot force the educator to remain working for the district, but the district board can vote that the educator left without good cause and submit a complaint requesting that SBEC sanction the educator for “abandoning” their contract.
The board must authorize the complaint within 30 days of the date the educator quit working for SBEC to pursue sanctions. If a timely complaint is filed, TEA staff will investigate to determine independently whether the educator had good cause to leave. If the TEA staff members determine that good cause existed, they can simply dismiss the complaint. If, however, they determine that good cause did not exist, they can pursue sanctions through the normal hearing procedures that apply to SBEC disciplinary due process.
Over the years, through previous cases, a body of law has developed defining what is and what is not considered good cause. SBEC has incorporated many of these informal considerations into official guidelines. The SBEC rules now provide that there are several specific situations considered good cause for contract abandonment:
- The serious illness or health condition of the educator or the educator’s close family member.
- Relocation to a new city because of a change in the employer of the educator’s spouse or partner who resides with the educator.
- Significant change in the educator’s family needs that requires the educator to relocate or devote more time than allowed by current employment.
- The educator’s reasonable belief that the educator had written permission from the school district’s administration to resign.
The rules now also include mitigating factors that may be considered in determining whether an educator should be sanctioned for abandonment or whether the sanction should be reduced. Included in these factors are whether:
- The educator gave written notice to the district 30 days or more in advance of the first day of instruction for which the educator will not be present.
- The educator assisted the school district in finding a replacement educator to fill the position.
- The educator continued to work until the school district hired a replacement educator.
- The educator assisted in training the replacement educator.
- The educator showed good faith in communications and negotiations with the school district.
- The educator provided lesson plans for classes following the educator’s resignation.
- The educator changed careers within the field of education to a position that required a different class of educator certification, to a position with a higher level of authority within the principal class of certificate, or to a position in an open-enrollment charter school or district of innovation that is equivalent to the positions described previously.
- The educator had a reduction in base pay, not counting stipends, as compared to the educator’s base pay for the prior year at the same school district.
- The educator resigned due to working conditions that reasonably posed an immediate threat of significant physical harm to the educator.
The rules finally codified what had been common practice by providing that an educator who abandons their contract without good cause and without mitigating the harm as described will normally have their certification suspended for a year, either from the date of the abandonment or the date of the SBEC ruling, depending on the circumstances. However, a resignation submitted during the summer after the 45-calendar-day deadline but at least 30 calendar days before the first instructional day may subject an educator to an inscribed reprimand on their certificate rather than a suspension.
As has always been the case, SBEC does not consider a promotion or the offer of a better-paying position good cause to abandon a contract. Although an individual school district might—by local policy or practice—allow an educator to resign without filing an SBEC complaint if the district does, SBEC is not sympathetic to such situations. Nor does SBEC consider a significant change in employment, such as an unwanted reassignment or demotion, good cause to abandon a contract.
A certified educator under contract can always rescind or “take back” a resignation if the district agrees. If the district does not agree, the educator may still be able to do so. The most important questions are:
- When was the resignation to be effective?
- Has the educator been told that the district has accepted the resignation?
A resignation effective for any date prior to the end of the current school year may usually be rescinded if it is rescinded before the educator has been notified that the resignation has been accepted. To be considered final and irrevocable, an educator’s mid-year resignation must be “accepted,” and the acceptance must also be communicated to the educator. Most school district board policies delegate authority to the superintendent to accept resignations, but few, if any, delegate that authority to principals. If an educator notifies the superintendent that they are rescinding their resignation before receiving notice of acceptance, the rescission may be successful.
A resignation submitted by a certified educator under contract effective at the end of the school year is automatically accepted, so the educator does not have this ability to rescind the resignation. The district must agree to simply ignore the resignation or to rehire the educator.
A resignation submitted by an at-will employee (with no contract requiring employment for a set term) is also automatically accepted. Again, the district must agree to ignore the resignation or to rehire the employee.
Published/reviewed: Aug. 30, 2021
The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication. It is provided here 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.