Our course for today: Nonrenewal 101.

It’s only November, but it’s not too soon to be thinking about personnel decisions you will be making in the spring.  Today we pass along the story of a nonrenewed contract and how T.E.A. dealt with it.

In a brief opinion, Commissioner Morath upheld the decision of the local school board to not renew a teacher’s contract.  In doing so, the Commish made four key points, none of which are new, but all of which are worth remembering as we move toward the spring. 

WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR.  First, the general rule is that whatever happened in prior years cannot be used as the basis to nonrenew this year’s contract.  However, evidence of incidents from prior years can be used to show that the employee had been put on notice of performance standards which the employee later failed to satisfy.  This nonrenewal was largely based on the employee’s consistent failure to address issues through proper channels.   It had happened in previous years, and it happened this year.  At the nonrenewal hearing the district introduced reprimands from prior  years for the limited purpose of showing that the employee had been warned about the importance of using the proper channels.  The Commissioner ruled that this was proper. 

REMEDIATION.  The Commissioner put it plainly: “There is no independent right to remediation.”  Here, the Commissioner noted that the district did give the teacher an opportunity to show improvement with regard to some issues, such as using proper channels. But there were other performance problems that did not deserve remediation, such as unprofessional communication with parents that damaged that relationship. The Commissioner noted that the district “was not required to give Petitioner another chance.”

HOW MUCH EVIDENCE IS ENOUGH?  We know what the law says. The decision of the school board must be supported by “substantial evidence.”  But the use of the word “substantial” brings to mind the line from The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.” “Substantial” evidence is not a whole lot of evidence.  The Commissioner tells us that “Substantial evidence is not a high standard.”  It’s just more than a “scintilla” which is a word you will only encounter in court cases and legal textbooks.  A scintilla is a little tiny thing.  Substantial evidence is a little tiny bit more evidence than that.

RETALIATION.  The school district argued that the Commissioner should not even consider the teacher’s complaint of illegal retaliation, since that issue is not addressed in the “school laws of Texas,” where the Commissioner derives his jurisdiction.  That didn’t work.  But fortunately for the district, it marshaled sufficient evidence to show that the contract nonrenewal was based on performance, not the teacher’s reports of alleged wrongdoing to T.E.A.

It’s a straightforward nonrenewal decision based on good testimony and evidence from school administrators establishing the real reasons for the adverse personnel decisions. And I’m pleased to let you know that the district was well represented by Haley Turner and Carlos Alferez from the Walsh Gallegos law firm. Carter v. Copperas Cove ISD, decided by the Commissioner on August 24, 2020, Docket No. 043-R1-07-2020.


Tomorrow: New services from the Walsh Gallegos Law Firm!