Teachers provide fundamental education to Texas children statewide. In many cases, teachers spend time with and influence children as much as their parents. As a result, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) takes allegations of misconduct by teachers very seriously. Findings of misconduct can lead to a loss of licensure and other severe consequences. Having a teaching license defense attorney on your side can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case.
SBEC and Disciplinary Action Against Educators
The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is the TEA division that handles educator disciplinary proceedings. As a result, SBEC receives complaints about educators from members of the public, SBEC staff, schools, and other educators.
19 Tex. Admin. Code § 249.5(b)(2) permits SBEC to pursue disciplinary action against educators who are convicted of felony and misdemeanor criminal offenses. SBEC also can discipline educators based on certain types of conduct that have occurred by a preponderance of the evidence or “more likely than not” occurred. Disciplinary action does not require that a criminal conviction, deferred adjudication, community supervision, an indictment, or an arrest have occurred.
When SBEC Receives a Complaint Against an Educator
SBEC initially will prioritize complaints against educators based on their severity. Under 19 Tex. Admin. Code § 249.14, the agency ranks complaints as “Priority 1” or “Priority 2” based on their content. Generally, Priority 1 complaints involve conduct that presents a risk to the health, safety, or welfare of a student or minor, parent of a student, fellow employee, or professional colleague, including:
- Felony criminal offenses
- Indecent exposure or public lewdness
- Child abuse or neglect
- Possession of a weapon on school property
- Drug offenses on school property
- Sales or making alcohol or drugs available to students or minors
- Sales, distribution, or display of harmful material to students or minors
- Certificate fraud
- State assessment testing violations
- Deadly conduct
- Inappropriate communication with a student, inappropriate professional educator-student relationships and boundaries, or otherwise soliciting or engaging in sexual conduct or a romantic relationship with a student or minor
Priority 2 complaints include any conduct that does not constitute a Priority 1 complaint, including misdemeanor criminal offenses or testing violations not specified as Priority 1 complaints, contract abandonment, and code of ethics violations.
Based on the nature of the complaint, SBEC may or may not be required to place an investigative notice on the certification records of the educator who is the subject of the complaint. However, SBEC must follow specific procedures if it must or chooses to place an investigative notice.
If it intends to seek disciplinary action against the educator, SBEC must notify the educator of the allegations and allow them to respond. Ultimately, SBEC can then file a petition for sanctions against the educator based on a violation of the rules or laws that govern educators.
SBEC Contested Hearings
If SBEC and the educator who is the subject of the complaint are unable to reach an agreed resolution of the complaint, SBEC can refer the case to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) for a contested hearing. SOAH will assign the case to an administrative law judge (ALJ) to hear the case. Texas law contains extensive procedures that govern SBEC disciplinary hearings before SOAH.
Ultimately, the ALJ will hear both sides of the case and issue a proposal for decision (PFD) under 19 Tex. Admin. Code § 249.36 to SBEC. The PFD must contain separately stated findings of fact and conclusions of law. Either party may file exceptions to the PFD within 15 days, and the other party may file replies to the filed exceptions within 15 days of their filing. SBEC will consider the PFD, any filed exceptions and replies, any oral arguments by either party, and a presentation by the ALJ if requested. SBEC then issues a final decision on the disciplinary complaint by a majority vote of a quorum of the members. SBEC may adopt the findings of the ALJ or remand the case to the ALJ with specific instructions to determine an essential finding of fact or to apply the correct burden or standard of proof.
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Potential Sanctions for Violations
19 Tex. Admin. Code § 249.15 authorizes SBEC to take any of the following actions against educators based on a violation of applicable rules or laws:
- Placement of indefinite or a set term of restrictions on the issuance, renewal, or holding of a certificate;
- Issuance of an inscribed or non-inscribed reprimand;
- Suspension or a probated suspension of a certificate for a set term;
- Revocation or cancellation of a certificate;
- Imposition of any conditions or restrictions upon a certificate deemed necessary to facilitate the rehabilitation and professional development of the educator or to protect students, parents of students, school personnel, or school officials, or
- Imposition of an administrative penalty of $500 – $10,000 on a superintendent or director who fails to timely file a mandatory report or on a principal who fails to timely file a mandatory notification with a superintendent or director.
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We Will Stand Up for Your Rights Before the Texas Education Agency
You can count on the experienced teaching license defense lawyers at Bertolino LLP, to defend you when you receive notice of disciplinary proceedings against you from the TEA. We will investigate the circumstances that led to the disciplinary proceedings and devise the best defense strategy for your case. Together, we will work to clear your name and protect your teaching license. Call us today at (512) 515-9518 or contact us online.