Q: Our district is concerned with additional COVID-19 interruptions during the 2020-2021 school year and is planning on implementing an intersessional calendar with an earlier start date. Will the penalty-free resignation deadline for our teachers change if our school year begins earlier?
A: Yes, the penalty free resignation period for Chapter 21 contract employees attaches to the first day of instruction regardless of calendar adopted. As such, if your district is a District of Innovation exempt from the uniform start date and you intend to build remediation days into your calendar by “backing up” the start date, your 45th day before the first day of instruction penalty free resignation date will need to shift accordingly.
The Texas Education Code specifies that the first day of instruction for public school districts cannot begin earlier than the fourth Monday in August. See Tex. Educ. Code § 25.0811. A district has the ability, however, to exempt itself from the uniform school start date if approved as a District of Innovation (“DOI”), which now total the vast majority of districts statewide. See Tex. Educ. Code § 12A.003(b)(1)(B). Most DOIs are considering whether to implement a calendar redesign, such as an intersessional or year round calendar, to remedy closures during the 2019-2020 school year and accommodate for further instructional disruptions. Modifying academic calendars, however, may have unintended consequences on the penalty free-resignation deadline requiring consideration.
The Texas Education Code provides that a Chapter 21 probationary, term, or continuing contract teacher must resign prior to the 45th calendar day before the first day of instruction or face potential sanction of their certificate. See Tex. Educ. Code §§ 21.105, .160, .210. If the school district adjusts its calendar so that the first day of instruction begins earlier than in prior years, the statutory, penalty-free resignation deadline will also occur earlier – at least 45 calendar days before the revised start date. Id. An early August start date, therefore, could translate to a mid to late June resignation deadline. Note that the Commissioner of Education has opined that this 45 day deadline pertains both to an employee’s submission of a resignation without penalty, as well as the employer’s requirement to provide written notification of reduction in overall compensation between contract years. As such, for calendar development purposes, it is critical to involve both instructional and human resources personnel. This will ensure that staff assignment and compensation plan development and timing are appropriately considered.
The Texas Education Agency recently published guidance about public school districts’ modifications to their 2020-2021 academic calendars due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is available at https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/covid/2020-21_Calendar_Guidance_and_FAQs.pdf. Please contact your local school attorney if you seek additional information or have specific questions regarding the consequences of modifying your district’s school calendar.