Conference time and duty-free lunch

What are your rights under Texas law?

Conference time: Planning and prep

The Texas Education Code provides that all classroom teachers are entitled to conference time. The code defines a classroom teacher as a certified educator who teaches for at least an average of four hours per day in an academic instructional setting or in a career and technology setting.

Texas Education Code, Section 21.404 says:

Each classroom teacher is entitled to at least 450 minutes within each two-week period for instructional preparation, including parent-teacher conferences, evaluating students’ work, and planning. A planning and preparation period under this section may not be less than 45 minutes within the instructional day. During a planning and preparation period, a classroom teacher may not be required to participate in any other activity.

The commissioner of education has interpreted the law to provide teachers with a great deal of discretion in how to use their time.
 
Decision of the Commissioner of Education
Strater v. Houston ISD (1986):

“The purpose of the planning and preparation period is to allow teachers ‘time to engage in parent-teacher conferences, reviewing students’ homework, and planning and preparation as the teacher, not the administration, deems best. The statute clearly relieves the teacher of any duty during this period of time and prohibits the district and its administration from requiring the teacher to engage in any other activity the administration determines to be useful and important."
 

Duty-free lunch

Texas Education Code, Section 21.405 says:
 
(a) Except as provided by Subsection (c), each classroom teacher or full-time librarian is entitled to at least a 30-minute lunch period free from all duties and responsibilities connected with the instruction and supervision of students. Each school district may set flexible or rotating schedules for each classroom teacher or full-time librarian in the district for the implementation of the duty-free lunch period.
(b) The implementation of this section may not result in a lengthened school day.
(c) If necessary because of personnel shortage, extreme economic conditions, or an unavoidable or unforeseen circumstance, a school district may require a classroom teacher or librarian entitled to a duty-free lunch to supervise students during lunch. A classroom teacher or librarian may not be required to supervise students under this subsection more than one day in any school week. The commissioner by rule shall prescribe guidelines for determining what constitutes a personnel shortage, extreme economic conditions, or an unavoidable or unforeseen circumstance for purposes of this subsection.

 

A common question is whether a school district can refuse to provide a classroom teacher duty-free lunch during state-mandated testing. Though a fairly common practice, this specific question has never been appealed to the commissioner so it remains unanswered. However, the commissioner of education has—in denying an educator’s appeal regarding the denial of duty-free lunch has stated that he does not have jurisdiction over a “one-time denial” of duty-free lunch.



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