On January 6th, the Daily Dawg informed you of a decision from the Commissioner’s office that approved of “liberal hearsay exceptions” when the school board conducts a nonrenewal hearing. Manuagwu v. Edgewood ISD. Now we have a decision from a Texas appellate court that does likewise.
The case involved the nonrenewal of a teacher based in part on allegations that he had made inappropriate remarks to some of his students. School administrators investigated this by interviewing a number of students. They also collected statements written by the students about events that happened at school.
At the nonrenewal hearing, the district chose not to call any of the students to testify. You can understand why. It can be particularly difficult for kids to be asked to give testimony in a formal proceeding about their teacher. So the district chose not to go that route. Instead, the statements of the students were introduced into evidence, and the administrators testified about what the students told them.
Not surprisingly, the lawyer representing the teacher objected to all of this evidence as “hearsay.” In effect, the district was introducing into evidence the statements of kids who were not present at the hearing. The teacher’s lawyer had no opportunity to question them. This is the essence of what we mean by “hearsay.” Can the school board rely on such evidence?
The Court of Appeals said that it can. The court held that the Texas Rules of Evidence simply don’t apply to a nonrenewal hearing conducted by a school board. That being the case, the board was free to consider the statements of the kids “to the extent that it was not arbitrary, unreasonable, or otherwise unlawful to do so.”
The court pointed out that the administrators asked open-ended questions from randomly selected students. Furthermore, the district had no power to compel the kids to testify, whereas the teacher could have at least asked them to do so. The court concluded that there was nothing “arbitrary, unreasonable or otherwise unlawful” here. Bottom line: the evidence was properly admitted into evidence, and it formed “substantial evidence” to support the board’s decision to nonrenew the teacher’s contract.
Keep in mind that school boards can hear a nonrenewal case themselves, or they can direct that the parties use the independent hearing examiner process. The independent hearing examiner process does require compliance with the Texas Rules of Evidence, so the holding of this case is limited to hearings actually conducted by the school board.
The case is Los Fresnos CISD v. Vazquez, decided by the Texas Court of Appeals, 3rd District (Austin) on December 30, 2015.
DAWG BONE: WHEN THE BOARD CONDUCTS THE NONRENEWAL HEARING, THE RULES OF EVIDENCE DO NOT APPLY. BUT THE RULES OF FAIR PLAY DO.