Q: We discovered that one of our teachers was recently charged with a crime, and we would like to initiate the termination process. Does a criminal charge constitute good cause supporting the termination of a term contract?
A: Generally, a criminal charge alone will not constitute good cause supporting the termination of a term contract. However, criminal charges often result from conduct prohibited by board policies and the Educator’s Code of Ethics. The Commissioner has long upheld terminations when school districts establish that their employee’s alleged criminal behavior violated policies or rendered them to be ineffective because of the publicity resulting from the arrest.
A school district’s board of trustees may terminate a term contract at any time for “good cause.” See Tex. Educ. Code § 21.211(a)(1). While the phrase “good cause” is defined in the Education Code for terminations of probationary and continuing contracts, no statutory definition exists for terminations of term contracts. Thus, when considering appeals concerning mid-year term contract terminations, the Commissioner of Education applies the common law definition of the phrase. The Commissioner has repeatedly recognized good cause for discharging an employee to be “the employee’s failure to perform the duties in the scope of employment that a person of ordinary prudence would have done under the same or similar circumstances.” The Commissioner has also emphasized that “an employee’s act constitutes good cause for discharge if it is inconsistent with the continued existence of the employer-employee relationship.”
As indicated above, a criminal charge against a term contract teacher – as opposed to a conviction for a felony – does not, by itself, amount to good cause supporting the termination of the educator’s contract, as the employee has not yet been adjudicated. Districts have, however, successfully terminated teachers for various reasons related to their arrests, indictments, and charges. For instance, the Commissioner has affirmed mid-year terminations of term contract teachers facing criminal charges when those educators committed felonies or other offenses involving moral turpitude and violated board policies tied to their conduct. For example, terminations have been upheld when educators have failed to inform their employers of past convictions, failed to promptly notify their employers of arrests, and/or become insufficient role models for their students due to notoriety related to their offenses.
Look to board policies DH for information regarding employee standards of conduct and reporting timelines subsequent to an arrest. Policies DF and DFBA contain information regarding termination of term contracts during the contract period. Should you have specific questions concerning alleged employee criminal conduct and consequential employment actions, please consult your local school attorney.