Big changes to the certified educator’s ability to resign
Date Posted: 2/24/2022
Recently, both the Legislature and the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) have made positive changes related to penalizing certified educators who leave their positions.
A little background to set the stage: Educators employed under contracts have accepted a legal obligation to work for a school district for the school year covered by the contract. An educator who breaks that contract by leaving without their district’s agreement can be penalized by the State Board for Educator Certification. Learn more about resignations, releases, and sanctions.
Changes to rules relating to summer resignations
Educators often sign a contract for the next school year in the spring. The Legislature has amended the law covering sanctions faced by educators who resign the summer after signing a contract. Under the prior law, an educator who submitted a resignation fewer than 45 calendar days prior to the first instructional day of the year—without having good cause or mitigating circumstances—would be subject to the full sanction of a one-year suspension of their certification.
The new law provides that an educator who resigns—without good cause or mitigating circumstances—at least 30 calendar days before the first instructional day of the next school year could still be sanctioned but that said sanction would be limited to an inscribed reprimand rather than a license suspension. An “inscribed reprimand” means that the educator’s virtual certificate will have a note that states the educator has been reprimanded and the date of the reprimand.
Changes to “good cause”
The new SBEC rules go into effect March 3 and are the result of more than three years of ATPE advocacy. (Learn more about the advocacy on ATPE’s Teach the Vote.) If an educator can prove they have good cause to resign from their district, the educator will not be sanctioned—even if the district has not agreed to release them. The new rules also added an additional factor that would be considered good cause.
If an educator submits a request for contract release or resignation, the district can agree to release the educator. If the district agrees, the educator can leave without fear of sanction. A problem can arise, however, as educators often do not know who has the actual authority to release them. This can lead to situations in which an educator thinks they have been released but the individual they communicated with did not have actual authority to make that decision for the district.
The new standard for good cause states that the educator’s reasonable belief they had written permission to resign from the school district administration establishes that the educator did have good cause and therefore should not be sanctioned.
The key word is “reasonable.” Whatever communication occurred, it must be a communication that would cause a reasonable person to believe they had been released by someone with the authority to grant the release.
School districts were not happy about this addition, and it is likely they will respond by adding communications to their staff that outline who does and who does not have the authority to grant release. Educators considering a request for contract release or resignation should be sure to check resources such as staff handbooks for such information.
Changes to “mitigating circumstances”
A mitigating circumstance is something that does not necessarily eliminate a sanction—like a good cause standard—but can reduce the sanction. The new rules first state that SBEC “must consider” any mitigating factors relevant to the teacher's conduct.
The new rules add four new mitigating factors:
- Changing careers within education to a position that requires a different class of educator certification or with a higher level of authority within the principal class of certificate.
- An unexpected reduction in base pay, excluding stipends, as compared to the educator’s base pay for the prior year at the same school district.
- A change in the educator’s campus assignment that caused a significant adverse impact on the educator’s health condition or family needs.
- Working conditions that reasonably posed an immediate threat of significant physical harm to the educator.
Again, as these are only mitigating circumstances, an educator who can establish that one or more exists may still be penalized for resigning without being released by the district, but the penalty may be reduced.
Although educators’ contracts still create legal obligations—as well as legal protections—these new rules do provide educators with some well-deserved additional flexibility when dealing with real-world issues.
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.