Teachers work long hours to educate Texas children and provide them with the tools necessary to function as productive members of society. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made teaching an even more challenging, exhausting, and thankless job. When you receive notice from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) that someone has filed a complaint against you, you need help to protect your teaching license.
Authority of the State Board for Educator Certification
The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is responsible, among other things, for disciplining teachers for misconduct. This Board also regulates other educators, such as librarians, school counselors, educational diagnosticians, administrators, and paraprofessionals.
SBEC can investigate and take disciplinary actions against current certificate holders, but they also regulate individuals at the following stages of the certification process:
- Applicants for certification
- Examinees taking certification exams
- Students in educator preparation programs
- Persons who erroneously have received certificates
All educators who hold a certificate must follow state and federal laws and must follow the Educators’ Code of Ethics, 19 Tex. Admin. Code § 247.2, and observe the SBEC Disciplinary Guidelines. The SBEC has the authority to investigate violations of any laws and rules that apply to educators and take any necessary disciplinary actions against those who violate them.
Grounds for Teacher Discipline in Texas
Various situations can lead to teacher disciplinary actions. However, some types of misconduct occur more commonly than others, such as:
- Exercising inappropriate communication or relationships with students
- Engaging in sexual misconduct
- Violating student confidentiality rules
- Physically abusing students
- Misappropriating school property or privileges
- Accepting bribes or gifts that affect performance or judgment
- Engaging in deceptive or fraudulent practices
Disciplinary action against them also may occur when teachers abandon their contracts, fail to cooperate with SBEC investigations, and engage in school or educational activities that violate the law. Some types of criminal activities outside the classroom also can be a basis for teacher discipline, regardless of whether the teacher faces prosecution and a criminal conviction. Actionable types of criminal activity include:
- Crimes involving moral turpitude
- Crimes involving sexual or physical abuse or other illegal conduct with a minor or student
- Soliciting or engaging in romantic or sexual relationships with a minor or student
- Felony-level crimes involving the possessing, transferring, selling, distributing of a controlled substance, or conspiracy to commit any of those crimes
- Crimes involving school property or funds
- Crimes involving attempts to fraudulently or illegally obtain or alter any teaching permit or certificate for any type of educator position
- Crimes occurring wholly or partially on school property or during school-sponsored activities
- Two or more crimes committed within 12 months involving public intoxication, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, or disorderly conduct
TEA Investigations and Disciplinary Proceedings
When the TEA receives a complaint about teacher misconduct or notice of criminal activity, investigative staff members review the information to determine whether to sanction the teacher’s credentials. If the teacher is non-certified, the staff must determine whether the teacher is employable.
If the TEA investigation reveals evidence that the educator has violated the law or educator rules, the TEA can file a formal petition against the educator seeking sanctions. The petition outlines the allegations against the educator and gives the educator 30 days to file a response.
If the educator fails to respond within the 30-day timeframe, the TEA can request a default judgment and impose the proposed sanction against the educator. However, if the educator does respond, the TEA refers the case to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ).
At any time before a hearing occurs, the TEA and the educator can informally resolve the complaint through a settlement or consent order. The SBEC or the SOAH can also dismiss the case when appropriate according to the SOAH rules of procedure. However, if the case is not otherwise disposed of before the hearing, it will proceed to a hearing before the ALJ.
After the hearing, the ALJ will prepare a proposal for decision containing findings of fact and conclusions of law. The ALJ will then submit the proposal for decision to the SBEC, who then reviews it before issuing a final order or decision. The SBEC can adopt the ALJ’s proposal for decision in its final order, adopt an amended proposal for decision, or remand the Proposal for Decision to the ALJ in specific circumstances.
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Possible Sanctions in a Teacher Discipline Case
When the SBEC determines that disciplinary action against a teacher is necessary, various sanctions are possible. The potential penalties for disciplinary action your teaching license include:
- Restrictions on the issuance, renewal, or holding of a teaching certificate, either indefinitely or for a set period
- Inscribed (formally published censure that appears on certification records) or non-inscribed (informal, unpublished censure that does not appear on certification records) reprimands
- Suspension of a teaching certificate for a set period or a probate a suspension for a set period
- Revocation or cancellation of a teaching certificate, including the surrender of a certificate without opportunity for reapplication for a set period or permanently
- Imposition of specific restrictions or conditions on a teaching certificate as needed
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Count on Bertolino, LLP, to Defend Your Teaching Certificate
When a complaint threatens your teaching certificate, you need a seasoned teacher license defense attorney on your side. We will defend you against these attacks on the credentials you have worked so hard to earn. Get in touch with the lawyers of Bertolino, LLP, today by calling (512) 476-5757 or visiting us online.