The deadline to resign from a Chapter 21 contract has passed and educators are dealing with continuously changing patterns of COVID-19 risk, varying responses by school districts, and the risk of certification sanctions if they resign. As the school year progresses, we may see COVID-19 spikes and schools continuing to change procedures and protocols, leading teachers to be concerned about increased risks of contracting the coronavirus and potentially endangering other members of their households.

Teachers considering resigning due to COVID-19 concerns should be aware of the laws and rules that govern resignations after the legal deadline.

More teachers considering resignation

TCTA attorneys are fielding calls from many teachers who are concerned about how their districts are handling COVID-19 issues and are considering resigning. These concerns are more prevalent than in previous years due to several factors.

  • Most teachers had no clear understanding of what reopening in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic would look like until well after the resignation deadline, and are now feeling unsafe in their work environment.
  • Even in districts that developed sound health and safety practices, appropriate measures are not always being enforced.
  • Teachers utilizing state and federal leave may have to choose to resign after that leave runs out. (Note: Federal paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act applies only through Dec. 31, 2020, unless reinstated by Congressional action.)
  • COVID-19 spikes, or unexpected changes in a teacher's health or the health of a family member, may force reconsideration of whether it is safe to be at school.

What the law says

Texas law allows educators with probationary, term, or continuing contracts to resign without penalty on or before the 45th calendar day before the first day of instruction. Educators may also resign after the penalty-free resignation date with the consent of a school board or its designee. For teachers who abandon their contracts without consent, their school boards have 30 days to meet and determine that the contract abandonment was not done for good cause. If a school board determines that no good cause exists for the contract abandonment, it may make a complaint to the State Board for Educator Certification and ask for sanctions against the teacher. SBEC’s rules describe a one-year minimum suspension.

SBEC’s rules contemplate that an educator may resign due to a “serious illness or health condition of the educator or close family member,” for “relocation to a new city as a result of change in employer of the educator's spouse or partner of the educator,” or because of a “significant change in the educator's family needs that requires the educator to relocate or to devote more time than allowed by current employment.”

If an educator resigns for one of these reasons, SBEC may determine that the educator had good cause to resign, and, if so, SBEC will not penalize the educator. SBEC guidelines for good cause and mitigating factors are available at 19 TAC Section 249.17(d).

TCTA’s letter to the commissioner

On June 30, 2020, TCTA sent a letter to Commissioner Mike Morath asking that TEA clarify its rules regarding good cause to resign and address specifically the needs of educators who find themselves at risk as the coronavirus pandemic and district responses to it change. In the letter, TCTA pointed out:

Unfortunately, we anticipate that many teachers will not have sufficient information to make an informed decision … prior to 45 days before the first day of instruction for the 2020-21 school year.

We requested guidance and clarification from the state:

TCTA believes that the thousands of hospitalizations and deaths attributable to the coronavirus justify its inclusion within the definition of “serious illness or health condition” and urges you to apply this provision to teachers who resign their positions due to a good-faith belief that their continued employment will subject themselves or their family members to infection with the potentially serious COVID-19 virus. We further ask you to provide guidance to school districts to inform them of the agency’s intent to apply good cause under these circumstances.

The commissioner did not respond. The State Board for Educator Certification has not clarified its rules, and they remain unchanged.

District responses to resignations vary

The law does not require districts to send notice to TEA/SBEC that an educator quit after the resignation date. That remains a district choice. TCTA is aware of one large district that has said that it will not ask SBEC to suspend the educator’s credentials if an educator resigns for a reason validly connected to COVID-19. Another large district has given contract holders until Oct. 9 to submit resignations.

A different district has already sent notice to TEA seeking sanctions against an educator’s certificate after the educator gave notice of a serious health condition of a spouse and asked for reassignment.

No such case has yet come before SBEC, so it is not yet known how SBEC board members will respond.

What can teachers do?

First, a member contemplating resigning based on their health or that of a family member should call the TCTA Legal Department to speak to a staff attorney regarding the law and their individual facts.

Second, TCTA members and local affiliates can ask that their administrators and board clarify that the district will not seek sanctions against educators who find themselves unable to continue teaching when their health or the health of a family member is at risk for reasons validly related to the serious consequences of contracting and transmitting COVID-19.

Third, in the event that the virus presents a heightened, present risk on a campus or in the district, members can ask that the board close the campus or district in compliance with the state’s procedures to lessen the continuing risks to educators, students, families, and the community.

 

If you are considering retiring rather than resigning, check out "Understanding mid-year or early retirement."