I heard that a probationary contract can be nonrenewed at the end of its term “in the best interests of the district.” Any reason why we should explain why?

In response to your question, let’s consider the following hypothetical.  Trudy the Teacher is on a one year probationary contract.  Of course, as we all know, the board can decide to terminate Trudy’s service to the district at the end of the contract term “if in the board’s judgment the best interests of the district will be served by terminating the employment.”  T.E.C. 21.103(a).

Trudy is a Hispanic teacher in a largely Anglo school district.  She has made it known in the teacher’s lounge that she is a non-believer in a community that is overwhelmingly Christian.  She’s 57 years old.  She drives a VW Van from the 60’s to school every day that features two bumper stickers: ALL THE WAY WITH LBJ and FEEL THE BERN.  This is noticeable because the last time a Democrat was seen in this county was shortly after Reagan’s election.  Trudy’s a feisty one.  In just her first year in the district she filed two grievances that went all the way to the board.  Both were denied, 7-0.  Oh, and Trudy just got married to Henrietta, with whom she has lived for several years.

So, as the school year winds down, you deliver the news to Trudy that the board has voted to terminate her service to the district. She asks you why. You say, “Oh….the board just thinks it’s in the best interests of the district.” Trudy presses you: Why do they think that?  And you say: “They just do.”

The law does not require any further explanation, and it does not require that Trudy be given a hearing.  However, Trudy is not without legal options. She can file a grievance. She can file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights or the EEOC.  In Trudy’s case, there are numerous avenues to explore.

She might allege that this has something to do with her ethnicity. She might allege that it’s discrimination based on religion. Or that it’s about her age. Or her political views. Maybe the board is retaliating against her because of those grievances.  Or maybe this is about her decision to exercise her constitutional right to marry Henrietta.

Now, in any of those instances, Trudy would bear the burden of proof, and it would not be easy for her to win her case. But if she pursues the matter, somewhere along the line the district will be required to answer her original question: But WHY does the board think it’s in the best interests of the district?   “They just do” will not be a sufficient response.

Don’t develop a false sense of security when dealing with a probationary teacher. They do have avenues of legal recourse. The district should have a reason for its decision that is 1) legitimate; 2) job-related; 3) non-discriminatory; 4) non-retaliatory and 5) supported by sufficient documentation to establish its credibility.  Whether you share that reason with the teacher at the time, and how you do that, is a separate question, and we encourage you to consult counsel about that.