Revised Educators’ Code of Ethics Gets a Pass at State Board of Education—Over Objections of Educators

Over the objections of Texas educators, the State Board of Education today allowed a problematic revision of the educators’ code of ethics to take effect. Texas AFT and other statewide educator organizations took a stand against the revision emanating from the separate State Board for Educator Certification, because of changes that in key respects left educators without fair notice of the standards by which their professional conduct would be judged. Educators can be deprived of their certification and thus their livelihood based on decisions by the State Board for Educator Certification that a violation of the code of ethics has occurred.

Texas AFT’s testimony before a committee of the State Board of Education, printed in full in yesterday’s Hotline, focused on several instances where the proposed changes leave up in the air the boundary between permissible and impermissible conduct—effectively granting SBEC staff broad discretion to determine where the boundary lies.

As Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi noted in our testimony, the SBEC revision of the code of ethics includes catch-all language requiring educators to “exemplify…good moral character.” She further noted that legislators, led by then-Sen. Bill Ratliff, Republican of Mount Pleasant, had criticized such language in their 1995 rewrite of the Education Code, because it leaves far too much to administrative discretion and fails to give educators fair notice of the standards they must follow.

Texas AFT’s testimony on this point drew the ire today of SBOE member Don McLeroy, Republican of Bryan, who studiously ignored Texas AFT’s actual point and professed to be “stunned” that a teacher organization would seek to remove “morals” from the educators’ code of ethics. No opportunity was available to respond to McLeroy’s misrepresentation at the State Board of Education meeting today, where the SBEC revision was allowed to go forward to implementation.

SBOE members by a two-thirds vote have the power to reject but not amend proposed rules promulgated by the certification board. They chose not to exercise that power today with regard to the SBEC-proposed changes in the code of ethics. 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. Texas AFT also will be turning to members of the legislature to consider how far the appointed certification board has strayed from its mandate to promote educators’ professional self-governance–and how far the elected SBOE has allowed its review power over SBEC rule-making to wither into insignificance.

Footnote:  Today’s meeting was the last for SBOE member McLeroy, who was defeated in his Republican primary earlier this year by Thomas Ratliff of Mount  Pleasant, son of former Sen. and Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff.  Earlier this month Thomas Ratliff went on to win the general election for the SBOE seat now occupied by McLeroy and will replace him in January.  (Texas AFT supported Ratliff in both the primary and general elections.) The McLeroy-Ratliff contest in the Republican primary was widely considered to be a referendum on McLeroy’s extremist political ideology and tactics, of which we saw just one more example today.