Gov. Greg Abbott instructed the Texas Education Agency to form a task group to look into the state’s teacher shortage earlier this month.
This comes as data reveals that in the last seven months, school districts across the state have submitted the state more requests to consider suspending or revoking instructors’ teaching certifications for job desertion than in previous years.
For contract abandonment in the past, the State Board for Educator Certification has most commonly opted to suspend the educators’ teaching certificate for a year, preventing them from teaching in Texas for that time. Even when the penalty ends, hiring supervisors will be able to see the suspension on their teaching credential.
Olivia Telebelsarfi, a former math teacher at John B. Connally High School in Pflugerville, was one of eight instructors elected to report to the Texas Education Agency in January by school board trustees. According to a district spokesman, this was the first time they utilized this method.
“Moving forward, we will be holding staff accountable because it’s causing harm to our students,” said Pflugerville ISD trustee Jean Mayer during a Jan. 20 board meeting.
In December, Telebelsarfi informed her principal that she would not be returning following the winter break. She expressed her dissatisfaction with increased class numbers, which she said resulted in “diluted teaching quality,” and expressed worry for her personal safety on campus in her resignation letter.
She stated she found out a kid in her class had brought a pistol to school before she quit.
“It’s terrifying, because after learning that, how can you go back to work and teach like it’s a normal day? In your mind, you are thinking, ‘does that kid have a gun? Does that kid have a weapon? Is that kid going to do something crazy right now?’ You don’t know,” Telebelsarfi said.
“That’s a lot that the school is asking from a teacher: continue to come to work and teach, take on more students and ignore the fact that maybe one day this is going to happen,” she added.
The district stated that it sent many letters home to workers and parents in the fall regarding a suspected weapon allegation. In answer to our concerns about adding students to instructors’ rosters, the district stated it adds students to rosters and levels courses throughout the year for a variety of reasons, including teacher hires, resignations, and an increase of students enrolled in the course.
The State Board for Educator Certification has suspended over 300 teaching certifications across the state due to job desertion during the epidemic. Hundreds of complaints from school districts are currently being investigated by the board.
The fines, according to Paul Tapp, who works for the Association of Texas Professional Educators and offers legal support to educators, fail to address the fundamental reasons why teachers leave.
“The idea of just sanctioning teachers, penalizing teachers — that is not going to solve the problem,” said Tapp said. “We’ve got to deal with why these teachers leave even though, again, they are risking sanctions, they are risking their careers by doing so.”
This strategy isn’t used in every school system to keep instructors from leaving in the middle of the school year. “Does not currently engage in the practice of sanctioning an educator’s certificate for contract abandonment.”
the district stated in a statement.
According to the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Legislature has granted school districts statutory authority over whether or not to report an instructor who breaks a contract.
Multiple teachers and support workers have been reported to the TEA for job desertion in the Del Valle and Pflugerville ISDs in recent months.
“Every year, we have staff members who resign before the end of their contract. However, this year we have seen an unprecedented number of staff members leaving during the school year, leaving our classrooms without a teacher and our students and staff members in a lurch,” said Pflugerville ISD Chief Communications Officer Tamra Spence.
The district began the school year with more openings, around 60 across the district, leaving it with a staffing shortage to cover all of the schools, according to Spence.
According to Spence, the district has provided several incentives for teachers and employees to remain on, including granting substitute instructors salary to the teachers filling in, which was not available in past school years. Pflugerville ISD, according to Spence, also has the highest teacher compensation in Central Texas.
Many teachers have either not turned up for work or have quit before the district has found an acceptable replacement, according to a Del Valle ISD official.
The State Board for Educator Certification recently amended its regulations about what constitutes “good cause” for an educator to quit in the middle of the school year. The modifications were the product of more than two years of negotiations, according to the TEA, which monitors the board.
According to the ATPE, the SBEC “must evaluate” any mitigating elements related to the teacher’s behaviour under the new standards, and it may decrease the sentence based on the circumstances.
Changes in careers, an unexpected reduction in base pay, a change in the educator’s campus assignment that had a significant negative impact on the educator’s health or family needs, and working conditions that reasonably posed an immediate threat of significant physical harm to the educator are among the new mitigating factors.