Q: I heard that the State Board of Education (SBOE) updated its rules recently regarding contract abandonment. Is it true that an educator can escape penalty if s/he believes they were granted permission to resign?
A: Yes. The SBOE adopted proposed rules at its January meeting to amend the definition of “good cause” to now include an educator’s reasonable belief that the school district administration granted written permission to resign.
The Texas Education Code articulates the parameters for educator resignations. To avoid penalty, a resignation submitted by an educator employed under a Chapter 21 contract must be: 1) in writing, 2) effective in-between contract years, and 3) received no later than the 45th day before the first day of instruction. Failure to meet this deadline can result in a report to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) seeking sanctions against the educator’s certificate. In years past, SBEC was free to consider all available sanctions for any resignation received inside this 45-day period and typically assessed a sanction of one-year’s suspension for contract abandonment. During the 87th Regular Session, however, the Legislature passed HB 2519, which prohibits SBEC from suspending or revoking a certificate if the educator’s resignation was received outside the 45 days but not later than the 30th day prior to the first day of instruction. On January 28, 2022, the SBOE adopted rules to effectuate this amendment to the Education Code.
During its review, the SBOE considered existing standards for “good cause” to abandon a contract (which would excuse the educator’s late resignation notice and result in no sanctions), as well as the list of mitigating factors required to be considered when determining the degree of sanction assessed. Prior to the recent amendment, SBEC determined the following to constitute good cause to abandon a contract: 1) serious illness or health condition of the educator or close family member; 2) relocation to a new city as a result of change in employer of the educator’s spouse or partner; or 3) significant change in the educator’s family needs that requires the educator to relocate or to devote more time than allowed by current employment. The Commissioner rules now include a fourth circumstance equating to good cause: 4) an educator’s reasonable belief that the school district administration granted written permission to resign. While no explanation or detail is provided as to what is considered a “reasonable belief,” we surmise a scenario where a teacher and her principal exchanged emails related to her resignation after the 45-day timeline, but her resignation was then rejected when reviewed by the Superintendent. In this instance, the teacher could [theoretically] claim “good cause” because she relied upon the representation of the “school district administration” [principal] that she was free to resign outside the deadline.
As indicated above, when “good cause” does not exist, an educator may nonetheless avoid penalty depending upon the results of the SBEC’s consideration of the various mitigating factors identified within the rules. The current list includes factors such as the resigning teacher’s prior notice and assistance with locating and training a replacement. As additional mitigating factors, SBEC will now consider the following: 1) whether the educator changed careers within the field of education; 2) whether the educator had a reduction in base pay as compared to the educator’s base pay (not including stipends) for the prior year at the same school district; and 3) whether the educator resigned due to working conditions that reasonably posed an immediate threat of significant physical harm to the educator.
The new rules are effective March 3, 2022, meaning this summer will be the first 45-day resignation window to test the new law. As you encounter resignations outside the timeline, it will be important to review the new good cause / mitigating factors to determine the likelihood of sanctions from SBEC before taking formal action to authorize a report to SBEC seeking sanctions. Please contact your local school attorney if you seek additional information or have specific questions regarding contract abandonment.