Some readers may not even be familiar with the term “continuing contract.” There are not many districts that still offer this type of arrangement. However, the Education Code allows districts to choose to employ teachers on a continuing contract, which is the same as what other states call “teacher tenure.” Some districts in Texas still employ teachers this way. North East ISD is one.
Ms. Riou was a ten-year veteran in the North East ISD with a continuing contract that automatically renewed each year. A teacher on a continuing contract can only be terminated “for good cause as determined by the board of trustees, good cause being the failure to meet the accepted standards of conduct for the profession as generally recognized and applied in similarly situated school districts in this state.” T.E.C. 21.156(a).
North East proposed the termination of Ms. Riou’s contract and she requested a hearing before an independent hearing examiner. Thus the district had the burden of proving that Ms. Riou failed to meet the standards that apply in similar districts. Normally, districts do this through the testimony of a superintendent or other expert who can explain what the standards in “similarly situated districts” are, and how this person failed to meet those standards. However, North East produced no such testimony.
Hmmm. That would normally mean “teacher wins.” But there is an exception. The teacher loses if the district shows “good cause per se.” This applies when “a teacher’s actions are so extreme that there is no need to provide evidence of the standards in other districts because there can be no reasonable doubt that other similarly situated school districts would terminate teachers for the same behavior.”
When you read words like “so extreme” and “no reasonable doubt” you may think that “good cause per se” applies to things like child abuse, sexual misconduct, smacking the principal up the side of the head and stuff like that. No doubt it does. But in this case the Commissioner held that it also applies when a teacher fails to perform benchmark testing of her kindergarten students; fails to follow the required scope and sequence of instruction; and fails to enter grades electronically. That’s what Ms. Riou was charged with. First the hearing examiner, then the school board, and finally the Commissioner concluded that her failures met the standard for “good cause per se.”
The Commissioner laid out a three-part test for determining if the teacher’s behavior amounts to “good cause per se.” The district has to show that 1) the rule that was violated was a reasonable rule; 2) the evidence of a violation of the rules was clear; and 3) this had an adverse effect on the school’s business. North East had evidence to prove all three. Case closed. Continuing contract ceases to continue.
The case is Riou v. North East ISD decided by Commissioner Morath on March 31, 2016, T.E.A. Docket No. 016-R2—02-2016.
DAWG BONE: WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T FIRE A TEACHER ON A CONTINUING CONTRACT?
File this one under: TERMINATION
TOMORROW: TOOLBOX TUESDAY TAKES A LOOK AT THE CODE OF CONDUCT!