Commissioner denies teacher’s retaliation claim

A teacher believes that the district is not complying with our state laws pertaining to serving students with dyslexia. She points this out to district leaders.  The district responds by refusing to allow her to attend a continuing education program for which the teacher had previously been approved.

Would that teacher have a good claim for “retaliation”?

We are seeing an awful lot of cases involving “retaliation” of one kind and another.  In this case the teacher did not file suit—she filed a grievance that was ultimately denied by the school board. Then she appealed that to the T.E.A.  The Commissioner concluded that he did not have jurisdiction to hear the case, thus effectively affirming the board’s decision.

The teacher filed her appeal pursuant to T.E.C. 7.057(a)(1), which grants jurisdiction to the Commissioner if a person claims to be aggrieved by the “school laws of this state.”  In this case, the teacher claimed that she was punished for pointing out how the district was not complying with the school laws of Texas.  What the Commissioner hung his hat on was the fact that the “school laws” of Texas do not specifically say “thou shalt not retaliate against a teacher who complains about your failure to comply with the dyslexia laws.”  Here’s the key part of the decision:

Petitioner contends that because she pointed out how the district was violating the laws concerning students with dyslexia, that the district took actions against her, such as not allowing her to attend previously approved continuing education.  Assuming that such allegations are true, and such actions are not condoned, the Commissioner lacks jurisdiction.

Petitioner points to several sections of the school laws of this state that concern the proper testing and intervention for students with dyslexia, but none of these statutes or rules provide that it is a violation of the school laws for a school district to retaliate against a teacher who points out that the school district is not following the law.

So the Commissioner reasons that he would have jurisdiction over a retaliation claim only if “the school laws of this state” specifically said that there can be no retaliation against a person who complained about the district’s non-compliance.

Interesting.  The case is Hubble v. Waco ISD, Dkt. No. 014-R10-12-2016, decided by Commissioner Morath on October 6, 2017.