Disciplinary Proceedings and the Texas Education Agency

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) houses the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), which conducts all investigations of complaints against educational professionals. The SBEC also handles disciplinary proceedings involving these professionals, including assessing any sanctions for misconduct. As these sanctions can be severe, consulting an educator license defense lawyer to defend your certification is critical. 

The Role of the SBEC

The SBEC is the division of the TEA that receives, investigates, and pursues complaints of misconduct against Texas teachers and other education professionals, such as school librarians, administrators, and paraprofessionals. Complaints may come from various sources, including students, parents, SBEC staff members, school administrators, other educators, and members of the public. The jurisdiction of the SBEC extends to all laws and rules that govern these educators, all of which are designed to protect the children with whom these professionals come into contact daily. 

How the SBEC Handles Complaints

When the SBEC receives a complaint, it assigns “Priority 1” or “Priority 2” to the complaint based on its severity, under the authority of 19 Tex. Admin. Code § 249.14. Priority 1 offenses include all 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, but not limited to, the following types of conduct:

  • any conduct constituting a felony criminal offense;
  • indecent exposure;
  • public lewdness;
  • child abuse and/or neglect;
  • possession of a weapon on school property;
  • drug offenses occurring on school property;
  • sale to or making alcohol or other drugs available to a student or minor;
  • sale, distribution, or display of harmful material to a student or minor;
  • certificate fraud;
  • state assessment testing violations;
  • deadly conduct; and
  • conduct that involves inappropriate communication with a student as described in §247.2(3)(I) of this title (relating to the Code of Ethics and Standard Practices for Texas Educators), inappropriate professional educator-student relationships and boundaries, or otherwise soliciting or engaging in sexual conduct or a romantic relationship with a student or minor.

On the other hand, Priority 2 complaints cover any other conduct that does not fall within the classification of a Priority 1 complaint. Priority 2 complaints include misdemeanor criminal offenses, testing violations not otherwise specified as Priority 1 complaints, contract abandonment, and code of ethics violations. 

If the SBEC finds that the allegations pose a risk to the health, safety, or welfare of a student or a minor, the SBEC will place an investigative notice on the educator’s certificate records. However, if the SBEC finds that the allegations pose a risk to the health, safety, or welfare of a parent of a student, fellow employee, or a professional colleague, placement of the investigative notice is discretionary. Whether the SBEC is required to place the investigative notice or not, it must follow certain notice requirements and procedures when it does so. 

The SBEC and Disciplinary Proceedings

If the SBEC opts to seek disciplinary action against an educator, it will notify the educator of the complaint and request a response to the allegations made in the complaint. The SBEC will file a petition for disciplinary action against the educator, seeking sanctions for a violation of the relevant rules or laws that the agency believes the educator has violated. 

The SBEC may initially propose a settlement and attempt to resolve the disciplinary proceedings informally. However, suppose the licensee rejects the settlement offer or the parties cannot agree. In that case, SBEC can refer the case to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) for a contested hearing. SOAH then assigns an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to the case, who will hold a hearing according to the special procedures governing SOAH administrative and SBEC disciplinary hearings. 

Both sides to the disciplinary proceedings will present their case to the ALJ, including any necessary witnesses, documents, and any other forms of evidence necessary to prove their case. The ALJ then will issue a Proposal for Decision (PFD) containing findings of fact and conclusions of law to the SBEC under 19 Tex. Admin. Code § 249.36. A copy of the PFD also goes to both parties, who may file exceptions within 15 days and reply to any filed exceptions within another 15 days. 

SBEC will consider the PFD, any exceptions, any replies to exceptions, oral arguments made by the parties, and even an oral presentation by the ALJ in some cases. Ultimately, it is up to the SBEC to decide via majority vote of a quorum of its members whether to adopt the findings of the ALJ or, if the SBEC finds the ALJ’s PFD to be in error, to remand the case with specific instructions concerning an essential finding of fact or to apply the correct standard of proof.

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SBEC Sanctions in Disciplinary Proceedings

If the SBEC adopts the ALJ’s PFD and it contains findings that the educator violated a rule or law that governs the profession, the SBEC can issue sanctions against the educator under 19 Tex. Admin. Code § 249.15. The nature of the sanction depends on the severity of the violation. 

For example, if the SBEC finds satisfactory evidence that the educator has engaged in various types of violations, including committing felony criminal offenses, failing to cooperate with an SBEC investigation, violating a provision of the Educators’ Code of Ethics, or failing to report child abuse, to name a few, then the SBEC can take any of the following actions:

  • place restrictions on the issuance, renewal, or holding of a certificate, either indefinitely or for a set term;
  • issue an inscribed or non-inscribed reprimand;
  • suspend a certificate for a set term or issue a probated suspension for a set term;
  • revoke or cancel, which includes accepting the surrender of a certificate without opportunity for reapplication for a set term or permanently;
  • impose any conditions or restrictions upon a certificate that the SBEC deems necessary to facilitate the rehabilitation and professional development of the educator or to protect students, parents of students, school personnel, or school officials; or
  • impose an administrative penalty of $500-$10,000 on a superintendent or director who fails to file timely a report required under §249.14(d) of this title (relating to Complaint, Required Reporting, and Investigation; Investigative Notice; Filing of Petition) or on a principal who fails to timely notify a superintendent or director as required under §249.14(e) of this title under the circumstances and in the manner required by the Texas Education Code (TEC), §21.006.

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We Will Represent Your Interests in Your Disciplinary Proceedings 

We know how important it is to continue working in your chosen field. The experienced teaching license defense attorney at Bertolino LLP, will advocate on your behalf to help you protect your license and career. Together, we will work to put you in the best position possible to maintain your license and professional future. Call us at (512) 515-9518 or contact us online.

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