Public school districts have been affected by hurricane Harvey in many different ways. Some districts are unaffected by the storm itself but will experience an influx of students, displaced from their communities. Other districts have damaged facilities that may take some time to repair, rebuild or replace. Educators may have lost their homes or had other disruptions to their personal lives that may affect their professional lives.
ATPE has compiled this list of questions and answers, covering many issues that educators may face as they are called to return to work. *
What are my rights if I am reassigned to another position because of damage to my school, changes in student population or changes to staff?
There are no specific rules regarding reassignments that are caused by a natural disaster, so the general rules regarding assignments would apply. Generally, your rights regarding your assignment are governed by your employment contract, if you have one. For more information about your rights regarding your assignment, please see:
What are my rights if I have had to evacuate?
Texas law provides protections to employees that have followed an official order or recommendation to evacuate due to a natural disaster, including employees of public school districts.
Section 22.002 of the Texas Labor Code provides:
An employer may not discharge or in any other manner discriminate against an employee who leaves the employee’s place of employment to participate in a general public evacuation ordered under an emergency evacuation order. Section 22.003 of the Texas Labor Code provides that an employer who violates Section 22.002 “is liable for any lost wages and employer-provided benefits incurred by the employee as a result of the violation.” The Section further states that an employee discharged in violation of Section 22.002 “is entitled to reinstatement in the same or an equivalent position” with equivalent pay.
The law only protects employees where there has been an official “emergency evacuation order”. The law also defines this term, stating:
“Emergency evacuation order” means an official statement issued by the governing body of this state or a political subdivision [examples: counties or cities] of the state to recommend the evacuation of all or part of the population of an area stricken or threatened with a disaster. The term includes a local disaster.” Texas Labor Code §22.001(2).
Note that the law references a recommendation for evacuation, so the evacuation order does not have require evacuation for the job protections to apply.
The law does provide an exception for emergency personnel as long as the employer provides emergency shelter. The law also specifically exempts individuals “necessary to provide for the safety and well-being of the general public, including a person necessary for the restoration of vital services.”
More information can be found on the Texas Workforce Commission website at:
What are my rights if my personal belongings at school were lost or damaged?
If you had personal belongings in your classroom or school, the district will not be legally responsible for any loss. The law generally requires that before a party suffering a loss can require another party to compensate for that loss they must prove that the other party was legally responsible for that loss. In the case of hurricane Harvey, it would be very difficult to prove that the district was responsible for damage caused by the storm. Even if it was possible to establish that the district had been somehow negligent, the district, as a governmental entity, is generally immune from liability caused by negligence.
It is possible that a district could have insurance coverage that would provide benefits. It is also possible that you may have coverage through your personal insurance, such as a homeowner’s insurance policy. If you have questions, you should contact your individual insurance agent.
For more information regarding immunity, see:
What are my rights if I am informed that my district is changing the school schedule to extend the workday or year or require additional workdays during the school year to make up days lost?
Rather than using instructional day waivers approved by the Commissioner of Education to shorten the instructional school year, a district may choose to lengthen the school day or add extra instructional days into the year, either by delaying the end of the year or by adding days into the year, or both.
A change in work schedule depends foremost on whether you are employed under an employment contract. If no contract exists, the district, as an employer can generally change the work schedule at its own discretion. If you are employed under a contract it depends significantly on what the contract says. Many educator contracts include language that may allow the school board to adjust the work schedule to some degree.
For more information regarding changes to the work schedule, see:
What are my rights if I am asked to assist in a school cleanup?
There are no specific rules regarding duties related to a natural disaster such as hurricane Harvey. Like more permanent changes to assignments, a requirement to assist in cleaning up a campus would first depend on individual considerations such as assigned position, contract status and any specific physical limitations or restrictions that might exist.
A second, separate but related consideration would be what type of cleanup is being considered and when it is scheduled. Is the cleanup limited to sweeping or does it involve removing debris that could be dangerous? Finally, as noted above, there are separate protection for employees who cannot return to work because they have complied with an evacuation order.
For more information regarding individual assignments, see:
* 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 with questions should contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department using our online contact form.