When licensed educators are sanctioned by the state, the public is left in the dark — unless the infraction makes the news. No detail can be found in the online license of the educator, save for a simple note that there has been action taken.
To find out how your local educator — superintendent or otherwise — has run afoul of the rules, “someone is going to have to do some footwork,” said Doug Phillips, director of educator investigations for the state’s Texas Education Agency.
The TEA is hoping to change that in the near future by linking to the documents that resulted in action against a license. The practice would be similar to how Florida handles its orders against medical professionals who commit infractions.
There, each case number links directly to the charging documents and the resolution of the complaint.
The reason this hasn’t been done with Texas educators is the federal requirement for web accessibility, said TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson.
“This is something we need to address in the future, and we need to put something up on the web about how each sanction was completed, ” Culbertson said. “At the same time, we have to accommodate screen readers for people with disabilities.”
The quality of material received in some cases is lacking and can’t always be converted to a readable text format, she said.
There are federal rules regarding the web, access and the disabled for those agencies receiving federal dollars. For PDFs, federal guidelines suggest converting to text-based formats.
Educator licenses in Texas can be searched through a portal on the state education agency’s website. The information is limited to date, license type, status and number. Sanctions appear at the bottom of the page, and range from reprimands to revocations. But without a comprehensive dive into various portals on the state’s web site, there is nothing more to be determined unless the infraction hit the news.
“In theory, you should be able to link to these orders,” Phillips said.
Disciplinary cases are heard by the State Board for Educator Certification during its five annual meetings (most recent cases heard here).
The cases are not search friendly, Phillips acknowledges, and linking to them would give the public an ability to see how the system works, as well as the ability to see if any of their local educators were in trouble.
In many cases, the public never hears of the complaints filed against teachers. It requires seeking out the agenda for the meeting of the State Board for Educator Certification, finding the separate disciplinary case section, downloading it, and then conducting an internet search with the right keywords to find an individual and the trouble, provided it was made public.
Coming across a name and seeing they are going before the state disciplinary board without more research can potentially lead to false assumptions of bad behavior. A link on the license would explain the misdeed.
One of the state’s teacher advocacy groups feels the system works as it is.
“These documents are available upon public records request to [the State Board for Educator Certification],” said Julie Leahy, staff attorney for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. “We question whether it would be a good use of resources to update and maintain a database of this sort.”
Leahy said the details of most sanctions are already available. And in the cases of the most severe misdeeds, those licenses are revoked, “so that individual is not going to be in a classroom.”
To avoid the practice of hiring teachers who might pose a problem, “we would expect that there would be questions about this individual’s certification when they are hired.”
Advocates for educators in trouble say they already have an uphill battle.
“If I am working out a separation agreement, I want to keep it as quiet as I can,” said Tiger Hanner, an attorney who represents educators in trouble. “I don’t want their story all over the news, I want to keep my client employable.”
On the other hand, linking to exactly what the reason for the discipline was can avoid wild speculating and “as long as it doesn’t create more confusion and can even clarify things, by all means, they should post it,” said Rob D’Amico, a spokesman for the Texas American Federation of Teachers. “It would benefit both the public and educators.”
The public should decide how much information it wants, said David Thompson, an education leadership professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio.
“It’s a local decision that should be made by the elected officials,” Thompson said. “They are the best regulators of those things.”
He added that regulation and transparency would be more of an issue if the electorate were more active in school issues. “The more engaged our citizenry are in local school district issues, the better off we are,” Thompson said.
Last month, the troubled Edgewood Independent School District outside of San Antonio began a search for a new superintendent when Superintendent Emilio Castro resigned after harassment allegations.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].