Texas AFT Testifies on Proposed Changes in Educators’ Code of Ethics

At a committee hearing of the State Board of Education today in Austin, Texas AFT laid out the reasons why the State Board should reject a proposed revision of the professional educators’ code of ethics. Our testimony elicited a curious, three-part reaction. On the one hand, some Board members acknowledged that there are indeed problems with the ethics-code revision, which has been proposed by the separate, unelected State Board for Educator Certification. On the other hand, the SBOE members on the committee that heard our testimony today chose to let this dubious SBEC proposal advance unchallenged. Yet they did so even as some SBOE members expressed sympathy for the idea of simply abolishing SBEC. Here, in full, is the testimony presented by Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi that elicited this all-over-the-map response:
“Texas AFT is opposed to these proposed rules because the changes would serve to expand the prosecutorial authority and discretion of SBEC staff while providing professional educators with inadequate guidance regarding what is expected of them in their professional role.

“When the State Board for Educator Certification considered these rules in October, every teacher organization was opposed to them. One board member who is a practicing educator noted that these new rules are a major revision, and he voiced concern that none of the teacher organizations were in support. He said the revision will open a ‘Pandora’s box,’ allowing administrators too much latitude.

“Here are three examples:

–Proposed Section 247.1(b) uses broad language requiring educators to ‘exemplify…good moral character’ without providing guidance as to SBEC’s definition of these terms. Increasing the Code’s use of such language targeting ill-defined ‘immorality’ represents a step backward in the quality of our state’s rules and standards for the education profession. When the Education Code was rewritten in 1995, then-Sen. Bill Ratliff, lead author of the rewrite, cited such vague language as an embarrassment to the state and struck it from the law on continuing contracts. Now with this proposal we see the proliferation once again of the same type of problematic language that never served to communicate to teachers what is expected of them. Instead of improving upon the current rules, these proposed rules take the state and the profession backward 15 years. The focus of the disciplinary rules needs to be on job-related conduct, not on someone’s vague notions of ‘character.’

–Proposed Section 247.2(1)(A) adds the terms ‘intentionally’ or ‘recklessly’ to the existing term ‘knowingly,’ a change that expands prosecutorial authority but gives educators no guidance regarding the appropriate boundary between acceptable and unacceptable conduct.

–Proposed Section 247.2(1)(L) would create Standard 1.12, adding ‘abuse of prescription drugs’ to the litany of sanctionable offenses. This rule might make sense if it were linked to an event in which a person is arrested and charged with a crime. However, as written it seeks to police an inappropriately broad spectrum of off-duty behavior. For instance, it would be inappropriate to hold educators to a standard triggering potential sanctions for what could be the result of simple human error, such as taking too many Ambien before going to bed.

“Another SBEC board member has noted that the stated goal of the agency is to attract the best educators and to enhance the profession, and she questioned whether these rules do that. Texas AFT shares that concern. Too often we hear from our members that they are not treated with the respect owed to professionals and that their professional opinion does not matter. In order to attract the best educators to the profession and retain them, they should be treated as the professionals they are, and that includes real ownership of their professional standards.

“The SBEC revision of the educators’ code of ethics, now before you for review, reflects a disconnect between the agency and actual educational practices and practitioners. It’s a real problem, and in our view it calls attention to the need for a return to a procedure in which a committee of practitioners is appointed and charged with reviewing and creating new rules for the governance of their own profession.

“Texas AFT believes SBEC in the proposal before you has strayed from the purpose for which it was established. As specified in Texas Education Code Section 21.031, Subsection (a), that purpose is ‘to recognize public school educators as professionals and to grant educators the authority to govern the standards of their profession.’ We call on the State Board of Education to exercise its statutory power under Texas Education Code Section 21.042 to reject this SBEC proposal.”