Depending on the context, “termination” might refer to any type of involuntary end to employment (the common meaning) or to a district’s “firing” a contract employee during the term of the employee’s contract (a definition specific to public education).
This special circumstance is how termination differs from nonrenewal. A nonrenewal happens at the end of the contract; a termination happens in the middle of a contract. A contract gives an educator a legal right to her job that is not provided to staff members employed “at will.” That’s why the existence of a contract and the contract type are the most important determiners of an employee’s rights and the procedures the district must follow.
An employment contract gives the employee a legally recognized right to her job. That right is not absolute, however; it is limited by the terms of the contract itself and by state law. The Texas Education Code (TEC) allows a district, as the employer, to terminate a contract before its end “for good cause.” Good cause is defined in the TEC as “failure to meet the accepted standards of conduct for the profession as generally recognized and applied in similarly situated school districts in the state.”
The process for terminating a certified educator with a contract is defined by the TEC. Only the board of trustees can initiate the TEC contract termination process. This begins with a board vote to propose termination and notification of the affected educator. The educator may then request a hearing in which the administration must prove to an independent hearing examiner (IHE) appointed by the Texas Education Agency that there is good cause to terminate the contract. The IHE makes findings of fact (what happened) and conclusions of law (what it means) that are submitted to the board. The board may either approve the IHE’s determinations or, in very limited circumstances, overrule the IHE. If the IHE rules there is good cause to terminate the contract, or if the board overrules an IHE ruling that there wasn’t good cause and terminates the educator anyway, the educator may appeal the case to the commissioner of education. If the educator prevails, the district has a choice: It may either place the educator back at work, or it can simply pay the educator one year’s salary.
Some non-certified employees, such as business managers or transportation directors, may be employed under a contract that is not governed by the TEC. If this is the case, the contract will still require some type of due process to establish that good cause exists to terminate the contract, but the procedure may be quite different than the one described above.
Employment “at will” is the term used in Texas for employees who do not have employment contracts. The vast majority of workers in Texas are employed at will, but because the TEC requires school districts to employ most certified staff members under contracts, at-will employees—such as paraprofessionals, custodial and food service staff members, and bus drivers—sometimes feel slighted in comparison.
With at-will employment, both the educator and the district are free to end the employment relationship at any time and for almost any reason. The at-will employee may simply quit without having to prove that he has justification—something the contract employee cannot do. The district, however, may also terminate the at-will employee for (using the phrase adopted by the Texas courts) “a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all.” The only limitation to this broad discretion is that the decision cannot be based on a legally prohibited reason, such as illegal discrimination or retaliation for the exercise of a protected right.
Because an at-will employee has no legal right to the position, the only recourse available to contest an at-will termination is the district’s grievance process (link to grievance), unless there is sufficient evidence to prove that the termination was illegally motivated. If there is evidence of a prohibited motivation, it is usually necessary to take specific required actions prior to a determined deadline. The actions required and the deadlines applicable depend on the underlying circumstance. For instance, a claim of racial discrimination has a process and deadline different than a claim for “whistleblower” retaliation.
It is important to recognize that every situation is different and that general information is no substitute for specific advice. If you are threatened with job loss, you should obtain individual advice as to your rights and options. Eligible ATPE members can obtain this advice by
contacting the ATPE Member Legal Services Department.
The legal information provided on this website is for general purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for
individual legal advice or the provision of legal services. Accessing this information does not create an
attorney-client relationship. Individual legal situations vary greatly and readers should consult directly with an
attorney. Eligible ATPE members should contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department using our
online system, MLSIS.