Although TEA likely hopes to prevent the hiring of teachers who are investigated for offenses far more serious than simply being a “bad” teacher, the new Do Not Hire registry brings to mind the notorious Lemon Dance. Marginally effective teachers can shuffle from district to district, politely asked to quietly resign from a job in exchange for a clean record instead of an ugly termination. These lemons drag incompetence, poor pedagogy, and disappointing student outcomes with them as they dance across Texas.
This can happen with criminal teachers, too.
As we all know, Texas is huge and houses over 1200 school districts. The vast majority of these districts conduct their own background checks. Prior to the launch of TEA’s new Do Not Hire registry, there was no central database that districts could access for information about criminal offenses or teacher investigations. Because criminal cases or internal investigations can sometimes resolve with plea deals or settlements instead of convictions (or resignations instead of terminations), criminal teachers could join the Lemon Dance.
Ostensibly, a teacher can break a serious law—such as engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a student—but simply sign a resignation letter before going on to sign a W-4 in another district. Not anymore, says TEA.
Thanks to House Bill 3, districts are now required to report to TEA if an educator has any past history of or newly engages in criminal offenses involving controlled substances, commits any criminal activity on school property or at a school-sponsored event, commits certification fraud, or illegally misuses school funds or property. This, of course, includes any unlawful acts with a student or minor, including romantic relationships or sexual contact. It is those offenses in particular that Texas is working to put an end to. Non-certified employees must also be reported to the registry for any unlawful acts or inappropriate relationships with a minor. For a complete overview of the Do Not Hire registry, here is TEA’s presentation on reporting misconduct as directed by HB 3.
If a district fails to meet the new reporting requirements mandated by HB 3, the district will be subject to sanctions from The State Board for Educator Certification, state fines, and criminal charges if there was intent to conceal information. And, thankfully, every district in Texas can check a current employee or prospective hire against the registry. They are, in fact, now required to do so.
The Do Not Hire registry went live the first week of January. The public will also have access to the registry, potentially in April.