Q&A: Are teacher planning periods untouchable?

Q: Can a teacher volunteer to teach an extra class during a planning period?
A: It depends. A teacher is prohibited from assuming teaching duties during the planning period required by Texas Education Code §21.404 (450 minutes in a two-week period) even if he or she volunteers to do so with pay. The only exception is when a district provides teachers with more than 450 minutes in a two-week period. In that situation, teachers are allowed to give up this surplus time to teach a class.
Districts sometimes ask a teacher to take on an extra class or period due to increased enrollment or when a special class is offered and it’s not feasible to hire a teacher to cover that single class period.
The issue on teachers volunteering to teach during their conference period was addressed in a recent 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 planning period, even if the teacher agrees to the duties.
In addition, the commissioner reasoned that a district cannot contract for teaching duties for monetary compensation outside of a Chapter 21 contract. If a district removes the duties, compensation cannot 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.