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Are Teacher Planning Periods Untouchable?

December 04, 2018 • April Mabry

question and answer

Q: Can teachers be required to participate in meetings or professional development during their planning and prep period?

A: It depends. A classroom teacher (i.e., an educator who teachers an average of four hours a day) is entitled to 450 minutes in each two-week period for planning and preparation in blocks of not less than 45 minutes. Texas Education Code § 21.404 prohibits districts from requiring a teacher to participate in any activity that is not instructional preparation, evaluating student’s work, and planning.

A teacher could be required to participate in meetings, including Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meetings or professional development if one of the conditions apply:

  • The district provides the teacher with more than 450 minutes in a two-week period and the district makes sure each planning period is at least 45 minutes long.
  • The district is a District of Innovation (DOL) and has adopted a plan including an exemption to planning periods.

Districts providing teachers with more than 450 minutes in a two-week period should be careful if they’re considering requiring activities during the surplus time. For example, if the daily planning period is 49 minutes long, or 490 minutes in a two-week period, the district couldn’t dedicate one day during each two-week period to required activities because the total time for a two-week period would be 441 minutes. To meet the 45-minute block of time requirement, the only arrangement available would be to use 4 minutes each day. However, if the district increased the planning period to 50 minutes, it would allow for one day per two weeks to be used for meetings or professional development and still meet the 45/450 requirement.

Scheduling considerations

Planning periods must be within the instructional day. The instructional day has been defined as the period when students are in the classroom for instruction. As a result, the planning period cannot be scheduled before instruction begins or after students are released.

The teacher is responsible for deciding how to use the planning and prep time as long as it relates to instruction. While the time is duty-free, a teacher’s time should be spent on activities that meet an instructional need, including parent-teacher conferencing. A district recently asked if the period can be used for grade-level or department planning. This is permissible if all the teachers on a grade level agree to the arrangement. If one teacher doesn’t agree, the group must arrange to meet at another time (e.g., before or after the instructional day). In this case, the teachers are still entitled to the 45 minute duty-free planning period.

Additional teaching duties

A teacher is prohibited from assuming teaching duties during the planning period even if he or she volunteers to do so with pay.

Districts sometimes ask a teacher to take on an extra class or period because of increased enrollment, or when a special class is offered and it’s not feasible to hire a teacher to cover that single class period.

This issue was addressed in a commissioner decision (Bledsoe v. Huntington Indep. Sch. Distr., Tex. Comm’r of Educ. Decision No. 033-R10-1103 (Sept. 18, 2014)). The commissioner held that districts are prohibited from assigning teaching duties during a teacher’s protected planning period, even if the teacher agrees to the duties.

In addition, the commissioner said a district can’t contract for teaching duties for monetary compensation outside of a Chapter 21 contract. If a district removes the duties, compensation can’t be reduced below the amount received in the previous year unless the district notifies the teacher before the penalty-free resignation date. This applies even if the teacher knowingly agreed to teach the class for only one semester or school year.

Additional information is available in the TASB School Law eSource post Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Teacher Planning Periods.

Tagged: compensation, employment