Amendments to Texas Educators’ Code of Ethics

December 26 is the effective date of recent amendments by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to the Educators’ Code of Ethics addressing electronic communication between educators and students, among other topics. SBEC has the power to determine that a violation of the code of ethics has occurred and to deprive educators of their certification and thus their livelihood, so it pays to know what’s in the ethics code as revised.

As previously reported in the Hotline, Texas AFT (and other teacher organizations) objected to many of the changes made by SBEC because they provide no clear guidance to educators. Texas AFT will monitor the implementation of these changes and will push for enforcement guidelines that provide better notice to educators of the standards they are expected to follow. Meanwhile, here are key provisions you should know about.

* The previous rules stated an educator shall not “knowingly engage in deceptive practices regarding official policies of the school district, or educational institution.” The new rules add “intentionally” (i.e., the actor’s conscious objective or desire is to engage in the conduct or cause the result) and “recklessly” (i.e, the actor consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur). The rule also now pertains to educator-preparation programs, the Texas Education Agency, and SBEC and its certification process.

* New language prohibits educators from “making threats of violence against school district employees, school board members, students, or parents of students.”

* New language states that an educator shall be of “good moral character.” However, the rules provide little guidance as to how SBEC will interpret this general standard.  Similar language was removed from the Education Code in 1995 because it left far too much to administrative discretion and failed to give educators fair notice of the standards they must follow.

* New language requires educators to refrain from “abuse of prescription drugs,” a category that includes prescriptions rightfully prescribed to the educator.

* New language adds “sexual orientation” to the rule prohibiting an educator from discriminating against or coercing a colleague on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, disability, or family status.

* Current rules state that an educator shall not retaliate against any individual who has filed a complaint with SBEC. New language prohibits discrimination against one who provides information for a disciplinary investigation.

* New language adds “intentionally” and “recklessly” to the rule prohibiting an educator from treating a student or minor in a manner that adversely affects or endangers the learning, physical health, mental health, or safety of the student. The rule also adds the word “minor,” which could extend the rule to the educator’s own child.

* New language adds an exception for parents to the rule that an educator not furnish alcohol or illegal/unauthorized drugs to any person under 21 years of age.

* New language requires that an educator maintain “appropriate professional educator-student relationships and boundaries based on a reasonably prudent educator standard.”

* A new rule to address electronic communications requires an educator to refrain from “inappropriate communication with a student or minor, including, but not limited to, electronic communication such as cell phone, text messaging, email, instant messaging, blogging, or other social network communication.”  Factors that SBEC may consider in assessing whether the communication is inappropriate include:

–the nature, purpose, timing, and amount of the communication;

–the subject matter of the communication;

–whether the communication was made openly or the educator attempted to conceal the communication;

–whether the communication could be reasonably interpreted as soliciting sexual contact or a romantic relationship;

–whether the communication was sexually explicit; and

–whether the communication involved discussion(s) of the physical or sexual attractiveness or the sexual history, activities, preferences, or fantasies of either the educator or the student.

Here’s a link to the full text of these amendments to the Educators’ Code of Ethics: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=2147489560&libID=2147489559. And here’s a link to the full text of related amendments to SBEC’s disciplinary standards: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=2147489561&libID=2147489560.

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