Today, we are starting a three-part series that will look into the rights that teachers have as directed by the Education Code of Texas. Some of these rights have already been violated by school districts. Most teachers will know these, but many may be new to education or new to Texas and may not know the information. 

This semester, we are dealing with uncharted waters in a variety of ways. Not since 1917 has a pandemic of this magnitude come to the shores of the United States. We are all dealing with life-altering changes. Many of us do not know what is in store for the upcoming months. 

By now, all schools have gone to distance learning, a combination of digital and paper. The governor has made the declaration that physical schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year. No one that is working has ever had to deal with this before. NO ONE. There is one thing to remember: the method of instruction may have changed, but teachers are still producing great assignments for their students. 

Over the next few days, I will share some possible violations that you need to watch out for during this unprecedented time. This does not mean that all districts are doing it or that it is completely wrong if they are doing a modified version.

This is not a time for school districts to increase the numbers of students who are “passing” in order to make the school look better. This is not the time to get rid of teachers. This is not the time to rid schools of troubling students. School administrators should be using the time to cheer on their staff, motivate students, and be good stewards for education. 

Today, we will look at the reduction of paperwork for teachers. On a good day, this section of the education code is violated many times. It is a vague statement that is often misinterpreted. Now, with distance learning, there are several ways that it can be violated. Let’s look at the actual entry in the education code: 

 

Sec. 11.164. RESTRICTING WRITTEN INFORMATION. (a) The board

of trustees of each school district shall limit redundant requests

for information and the number and length of written reports that a

classroom teacher is required to prepare. A classroom teacher may

not be required to prepare any written information other than:

     (1) any report concerning the health, safety, or welfare of a student;

     (2) a report of a student’s grade on an assignment or examination;

     (3) a report of a student’s academic progress in a class or course;

     (4) a report of a student’s grades at the end of each grade reporting period;

     (5) a report on instructional materials;

     (6) a unit or weekly lesson plan that outlines, in a brief and general manner, the information to be presented during each period at the secondary level or in each subject or topic at the elementary level;

     (7) an attendance report;

     (8) any report required for accreditation review;

     (9) any information required by a school district that relates to a complaint, grievance, or actual or potential litigation and that requires the classroom teacher’s involvement; or

    (10) any information specifically required by law, rule, or regulation.

   (b) The board of trustees shall review paperwork requirements

imposed on classroom teachers and shall transfer to existing

noninstructional staff a reporting task that can reasonably be accomplished by that staff.

   (c) This section does not preclude a school district from collecting essential information, in addition to information specified under Subsection (a), from a classroom teacher on agreement

between the classroom teacher and the district.

 

During this time, the state is allowing for more documentation; however, it still fits into the guidelines of the education code. This information is additional information from the COVID-19 information page under School Finance FAQs: 

 

3/19/20 School Finance FAQ

What documentation should I retain, in anticipation of any future audits, to prove that I have been providing instruction while closed?

For campuses that are “Closed, Instructing,” teachers will be continuing to review student work while they support the instruction being delivered off-site – whether done via an on-line learning system or from periodic phone check-ins with the students or parents. Schools should attempt to retain some documentation that instruction is happening. This could be grade books. For days when work isn’t being graded, this could also be done by retaining a small representative sample of student work (with appropriate notations for the date). In terms of what a small representative sample might mean, it could be a copy of one student’s work per grade level subject team per school per day, with attempts to add an example for students from different program types (e.g., bilingual). If you have on-line learning systems, it’s possible this would be done automatically in those systems. (https://tea.texas.gov/sites/default/files/School%20Finance%20FAQ%20March%2019%202020.pdf )

 

Again, we are witnessing some new and challenging times. This, however, does not give districts the right to violate the education code. Many are requiring several different logs or documentation of contact. In fact, they require that the teacher fill out Google forms for each contact. Be sure that the amount of paperwork that your district is requiring falls into the guidelines above. Yes, you may need to contact parents and keep a log; that is allowed by the education code. It is not allowed to keep individual Google forms for each student for each contact made. You may keep it on an Excel spreadsheet or even create a Google form that allows you to quickly enter the information but will add all of your contacts onto a Google spreadsheet that can be manipulated to filter for individual students. Teachers should be working smarter, not harder, during this time. Now, if you prefer to have a load of documentation to protect yourself, that is awesome and most likely a prudent thing to do. Remember: that is your choice, not the district’s.

When you get back to work, remember the information provided here about lesson plans. You only are required by law to give a unit or weekly lesson plan that is brief and general in manner. Let’s stop the large-scale abuse by administrators that want you to have word-for-word records of what you are doing. A simple lesson plan is all that is required. You deserve to create a lesson plan that works for YOU, not administration. 

The School Finance FAQ entry does add more work—but due to the changes we are experiencing and the lack of attendance, this is a good way to document the work being done by students. Schools should not be asking for more documentation other than the grade book that you are currently keeping. 

That is our first look into the education code; most know about it, but do not know all of the details. You do have the right to file a grievance if your district is violating those rules. You can file a grievance with your HR department, and it should be considered an anonymous grievance. You can also reach out to your association, and they can file a grievance for you.

Please do not fear the district; if you feel that your district is targeting you for you standing up for your rights, please let me know. I know several lawyers that would love to work with teachers to protect them from districts. The reason we have the issue we have now is because a few bad administrators decided to violate the education code, and then the teachers did nothing about it. This led to more abuse of power, and it continued to grow. Now, teachers are afraid to speak up because they are afraid of what will happen. Let’s stop this now. Let’s stand up for ourselves and take back our classrooms. 

Tomorrow, we will look at who actually controls the grade book. Have a great day, and remember that you are valued.