We learn a few things about nonrenewal hearings….

We learn four things about teacher nonrenewal hearings from the Commissioner’s decision in Garza v. LaJoya ISD.

One: Requiring a district employee to testify. Teachers who appeal the proposed nonrenewal of contract to the board can compel the district to produce their employees to testify. However, the teacher must make this “request in writing to the district within a reasonable time frame.” Moreover, if the employee does not show up, “an objection on the record needs to be made including an offer of proof.”

Mr. Garza fell short on both counts. On June 2, 2022 the parties agreed to hold the hearing on June 14, 2022. That’s 12 days before the hearing, but Mr. Garza did not request any district employees to testify until the afternoon of the day before the hearing. He asked the district to produce nine district employees at the hearing. The district produced eight. Only Police Chief Gonzalez was missing. The Commissioner held that this did not matter. The teacher did not make the request “within a reasonable time frame:”

A request for [the school district] to contact and secure nine employees for a hearing set the next day is not reasonable, particularly during the summer, when schools may be short staffed and school personnel may be on vacation or difficult to reach.

On top of that “Petitioner did not sufficiently object to Chief Gonzalez’s absence or make an offer of proof at the hearing.”

Two: Who recommends. The nonrenewal process usually begins with a recommendation of nonrenewal from the teacher’s immediate supervisor—the principal. But it doesn’t have to work that way. The notice of proposed nonrenewal comes from the school board and does not have to be preceded by a recommendation from the principal or the superintendent.

In this case the recommendation came from the superintendent based on accusations that the teacher inappropriately touched some elementary aged children.

Three: “More than a scintilla.” In his appeal to the Commissioner the teacher pointed out that there was some testimony at the nonrenewal hearing in his favor. Maybe so, but there was plenty of evidence to support the board’s decision. That’s all that is required. Key Quote:

The board heard testimony by several witnesses, including the superintendent, educators, parents, and Petitioner’s principal, who testified that she repeatedly addressed his lack of physical boundaries with students. The board also considered the Title IX investigative findings that Petitioner engaged in sexual harassment, Respondent’s police department’s determination that the students’ claims were credible, the publicity and negative reaction to Petitioner’s arrest and criminal charges, and the students’ outcries. This is far more than a scintilla of evidence.

We love it when the Commissioner uses the word “scintilla.” This does not refer to a small, fur bearing mammal, but rather, it’s a word that means “a little bit.”

Four: The role of the police. The teacher made much of the fact that the investigation of the accusations by students was done by the district’s police department, rather than school administrators. The teacher cited T.E.C. 37.081 which calls for district police to be “tasked only with duties related to law enforcement intervention and not tasked with behavioral or administrative duties better addressed by other district employees.” The teacher argued that the results of the police investigation should not have been used as evidence since the police should not have done the investigation in the first place.

The Commissioner rejected that theory, noting that an investigation of improper touching of young children “was neither a routine school administrative task nor an administrative duty ‘better addressed by other district employees.’”

It’s Garza v. LaJoya ISD, Docket No. 046-R1-06-2022 decided by Commissioner Morath on August 17, 2022.


Got a question or comment for the Dawg? Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com.

Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!