What You Don't Know Can Hurt You
Recent Changes in Disciplinary Rules Can Put Educators’ Jobs in Jeopardy
Unfortunately, teachers have been showing up in the news in record numbers for the wrong reasons. As public attention on teacher conduct increases, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is responding by tightening rules relating to disciplining certified educators for misconduct. These changes apply to both how educators perform their professional duties and educators’ personal lives. Since many educators are likely unaware of these changes, we wanted to describe them.
All educators know that an inappropriate relationship with a student can lead to a loss of job and career and, in many cases, criminal prosecution. SBEC has long believed that inappropriate communication is the precursor to an inappropriate relationship. In an effort to stop inappropriate relationships before they start, SBEC has heightened both the scrutiny and the consequences of communication deemed inappropriate, even where there is no physical relationship. “Inappropriate communication with a student” has been added to the list of Priority 1 allegations that require an immediate flag on an educator’s virtual certificate. Districts are also now required to report an educator who has resigned or been terminated if there is any evidence that the educator (a) “engaged in a romantic relationship,” which may involve only communication, or (b) “solicited” sexual contact with a student, which again may involve nothing but communication. Educators must recognize that even “soliciting a romantic relationship,” which could mean only flirting, requires mandatory permanent revocation of the educator’s certificate under the SBEC rules.
Mandatory Sanctions for Drugs and Alcohol
In a recent controversial move, SBEC approved new rules that require a minimum one-year suspension of a teacher who is “subject to sanction” because the educator “tested positive for drugs or alcohol while on school campus, was under the influence of drugs or alcohol on school campus, or was in possession of drugs or alcohol on school campus.” Although it’s not immediately obvious, the word “illegal” is missing from the new rule. When the rule was proposed, ATPE raised concerns, pointing out that educators may be under the influence or in possession of legally prescribed drugs. In response, Texas Education Agency staff stated that an educator in possession of, under the influence of, or testing positive for legally prescribed drugs would not be considered “subject to sanction.” However, they stopped short of clarifying the rule by adding the term “illegal.”
Mandatory Sanctions for Criminal Convictions or Admissions
Finally, SBEC recently adopted rules establishing minimum certification sanctions in cases where an educator has pled guilty or accepted a deferred adjudication or some other type of pretrial resolution of a criminal charge beyond a simple dismissal of the charge, even where the charges are ultimately dismissed or where prosecution does not relate to the educator’s job or profession. The rules are too complex to detail here, but it is important to know that a resolution of a criminal complaint that includes probation, community service, counseling, or anything beyond an outright dismissal of the charge may result in a required sanction. The minimum sanction for a misdemeanor-level prosecution is an inscribed reprimand on the educator’s certificate. The minimum sanction for a felony-level prosecution is a suspension for the period of any probation or community service. Because of this new rule, all educators should get advice about how their agreement to resolve a prosecution might affect their certification.