TCTA staff attorney Julie Leahy provided testimony during the State Board for Educator Certification's June 10 meeting, addressing proposed amendments on contract abandonment and mandatory sanctions for abuse of a minor.

In addressing an amendment regarding contract abandonment, Leahy told the board the proposal would increase the length of time that an educator would have to give notice prior to resigning from a school district in order for it to be considered a mitigating factor for contract abandonment. The current rule says two weeks’ notice is sufficient, but SBEC staff proposes to increase it to 30 days. Leahy said TCTA objects to this increase because of the timing of the unilateral resignation date. Teachers can resign for any reason up until 45 days before the beginning of the instructional year. Most teachers return to work a week or two before that. Requiring 30 days’ notice basically means that a teacher would have a week, possibly two, after the resignation deadline passed before the resignation can be considered a mitigating factor for purposes of contract abandonment. She said the practical impact of this change is to essentially eliminate notice as a mitigating factor for teachers who change jobs during the summer after the resignation deadline.

Leahy also spoke about a proposal that would create new grounds for permanent, mandatory certificate revocation for abuse of a minor not justified under the Penal Code (self-defense). TCTA's concern is not with the idea of revocation, but more with the mandatory aspect of the language. Leahy called the proposed language "vague" and said it "could arguably encompass a lot of conduct (i.e. What is 'abuse,' exactly?), some of which may present with mitigating circumstances that the board might want to consider" when making a decision in an individual case. 

In discussion of the amendment during a June 9 prebriefing before the June 10 meeting, SBEC staff indicated that they would be willing to consider alternate language for the certificate revocation rule. TCTA staff proposed a revision to specify that the conduct must include the elements of the offense of injury to a child, which is a felony. This change would not require that there be a criminal conviction, merely that the conduct that occurred would be a felony if charges were brought. SBEC staff was agreeable to this change and incorporated it into the revisions that were presented to the board.

During her June 10 testimony, Leahy stressed that TCTA is not trying to argue that the board should not sanction, or even revoke, the certificate of a teacher who engages in just about any type of abuse of a minor. However, TCTA urges that mandatory, permanent revocation be reserved for the worst of the worst such as child pornography, sex offenses, and murders. A teacher who fails to follow the district’s corporal punishment policy might be deserving of sanctions, but does not fall into the same category as those other people who are included in this rule, Leahy said. The board currently has the discretion to sanction that person as it deems appropriate based on the circumstances. TCTA would like for them to retain that discretion.

For more on the June 10 meeting, click here.