Help! My probationary contract has been recommended for nonrenewal!
Date Posted: 3/23/2022
It’s springtime. Bluebonnets are blooming, spring break just gave everyone a well-deserved breather, and there’s a faintly visible light at the end of the tunnel. But, unfortunately, this time of year is not without its challenges—and for some teachers, either new to the profession or new to their districts, that challenge comes during a meeting where they learn their principal is recommending their probationary contract be “nonrenewed.” These meetings often come out of nowhere, leaving the teacher wondering what they should or can do.Teachers don’t always pay attention to their contracts, but this is an example of why knowing what your contract says is critically important. There are three types of teacher contracts: probationary, term, and continuing. Every contract will say (usually at the top of the first page) which type it is. The most important difference among the contract types is the type of due process each affords a teacher who has been told their contract will be nonrenewed. In this blog, we’ll discuss probationary contracts.
With probationary contracts, the district can nonrenew the contract at the end of the school year without providing any reason. The administration is not actually prohibited from giving a reason, but legally, the district is not required to prove “good cause” exists to nonrenew and is not even required to give a reason for the decision. The Texas Education Code only requires the school board to vote it is in the district’s best interest to terminate the probationary contract at the end of the contract term and that the teacher be notified of this vote at least 10 days before the last instructional day of the school year. That’s it.
Because the administration and board are not required to provide a reason for the decision, probationary contract nonrenewals are quite common and can be done for even arguably unfair reasons, such as personality conflicts, or for no reason at all—as long as there is no evidence of illegal discrimination or retaliation.
As described above, a board vote is required, but the process always begins at the campus level with the principal. Although principals do not have the authority to nonrenew contracts themselves, they make recommendations regarding the teachers on their campus. These recommendations are forwarded to the school board. School boards typically accept principals’ recommendations regarding probationary contract nonrenewals. Although not legally required, principals often give teachers on probationary contracts a “heads-up” if they plan to recommend nonrenewal. This is where those spring meetings come in: letting the teacher know about the planned recommendation and giving them an opportunity to submit an end-of-year resignation before the board votes to nonrenew.
So, how can a teacher with a probationary contract fight for their job if they feel a recommendation for nonrenewal is unwarranted? There is no right to a due process hearing for a probationary contract nonrenewal. Again, unless evidence exists of illegal discrimination or retaliation, any challenge to the nonrenewal would have to go through the district’s grievance process, which only provides the teacher a right to be heard and requires the administration—and ultimately the school board—to “stop, look and listen” to the complaint. The Texas Education Code states that a school board’s decision to nonrenew a probationary contract cannot be appealed, so unless there is actual evidence of illegal discrimination (evidence the action was based on the teacher’s race, nationality, religion, age, sex, disability, or sexual orientation) or illegal retaliation, the school board has the final say.
Although teachers do have the right to try to fight a probationary contract nonrenewal through the grievance process, again, it is very difficult to succeed. Absent unusual circumstances, it is often in the teacher’s interest to submit a resignation effective the end of the school year. A resignation will almost always look better on a teacher’s record than a nonrenewal.
The positive thing for probationary teachers who find themselves facing a nonrenewal this year is that given the current teacher shortage, many districts are desperate for more teachers—so finding that new job may not be as challenging as it has been in the past.