Understanding new legislation affecting HR administration

by April Mabry

Since the close of the 85th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, HR Services has been working with TASB Legal Services and Governmental Relations to understand how new laws will affect school HR operations.

Legislation aimed at preventing improper relationships between educators and students was passed early in the session and the requirements of Senate Bill (SB) 7 are outlined in a separate article in this issue. Other laws of relevance to HR administrators are listed below.

Effective immediately

HB 1934—Flexibility for military spouses with out-of-state certification

This law requires the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to establish procedures to expedite the processing of a certification application under the out-of-state provisions for an educator married to an active duty member of the Armed Forces and to establish a temporary three-year permit. The requirements of the law are contingent on the appropriation of funds, which did not occur. However, SBEC can proceed with rule making using other available funds.

HB 2039—Early childhood teaching certificate

The intent of this law is to ensure the developmental needs of early childhood students are met. The law directs SBEC to establish an early childhood (EC) certificate to make certain there are teachers with special training in early childhood education focusing on prekindergarten through third grade. The new EC-3 certificate will be optional and does not replace the current EC-6. The provisions of this law also were included in SB 1839 (see Section 5).

HB 2442—Minutes of instruction

This law changes the measurement of time of school operations from minutes of instruction to minutes of operation. The requirement for a school day to be at least 420 minutes (seven hours) is removed beginning with the 2018–2019 school year. The law authorizes the commissioner to adopt rules to implement the statute, including determining the minutes of operation that are equivalent to a day of instruction, defining instruction time, and establishing the minimum number of minutes of instruction required for full-day and half-day programs. A June 27, 2017, memo from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) explaining rules for the 2017–2018 school year can be found here.

HB 2486—Reemployment rights of military service members

Protections granted exclusively to a state employee who is a member of the Texas military forces, a reserve component of the armed forces, or a member of a state or federally authorized urban search and rescue team have been extended to employees of a political subdivision of the state. An employee of a political subdivision is entitled to be restored to the position the employee held when ordered to duty. This standard must be coordinated with the reinstatement rights of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) that require restoration according to the escalator position or to an equivalent position.

HB 3349—Abbreviated educator prep program for trade and industrial workforce certification

This law is an attempt to help districts deal with a shortage of technical skills educators, which has resulted in a shortage of trained workers in the technical professions. The law requires SBEC to create an abbreviated educator preparation program for candidates seeking certification in trade and industrial workforce training.

HB 3563—Notice to parents regarding teacher qualifications

This law updates Texas Education Code and replaced references to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) with references to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This will eliminate the need for districts to send two notices to parents when their child’s teacher does not meet certification requirements at the grade level and subject area to which the teacher is assigned.

SB 1398—Video cameras in special education settings

This law amends current law relating to the placement and use of video cameras in certain self-contained classrooms or other settings providing special education services. The law clarifies that a request for cameras is limited to classrooms where the requesting parent has a child in regular attendance, specifies how long the district must continue to operate a camera, clarifies who can view video recordings of an alleged incident, and provides a timeline for installing and activating equipment.

SB 1839—EC-3 certification and various issues

This bill provides various changes and additions to law. Provisions for the EC-3 Certification, that are the same the provision in HB 2039 above, were included. Other issues addressed include the following:
  • SBEC certification requirements that include a bachelor’s degree must also require training in digital learning, including digital literacy, and comply with statutory digital learning requirements.
  • Continuing education requirements for the classroom teacher and principal must provide no more than 25 percent of training every five years to reference digital learning and digital teaching. SBEC is authorized to propose rules allowing for credit toward an educator’s continuing education requirements for courses that use technology. Digital technology was added to the list of optional staff development training topics and specific requirement for such digital learning training is addressed.
  • SBEC rules for candidates seeking certification in a class other than classroom teacher must allow for formal observation to occur either on the candidate’s site, through electronic transmission, or other video or technology-based means. This provision was also addressed in SB 1963.
  • Adds an exception for the field-based experience requirement to allow a candidate to satisfy up to 15 hours with long-term substitute teaching.

Effective September 1, 2017

SB 1—Appropriations bill

SB 1, the appropriations bill, provides for an increase in the TRS-Care annual state contribution (1.0 to 1.25 percent of active employee payroll) and district contribution (0.55 to 0.75 percent of active employee payroll). These increases are effective September 1, 2017.

HB 441—Instruction on Memorial Day

Beginning with the 2017–2018 school year, districts are prohibited from providing student instruction on Memorial Day. Districts that planned to use the day as a make up for school closure will need commissioner approval to reduce the annual required number of minutes of operation.

HB 3976—Changes to TRS-Care

This law makes significant changes to the retiree health insurance program. The 2017 TRS-Care plan options for retirees not eligible for Medicare will be limited to one high deductible health savings plan. The revised plan will have higher premiums, deductibles, and maximum out-of-pocket costs.

SB 179—Student harassment, bullying, and cyberbullying

Known as “David’s Law,” this law seeks to deter bullying on school property or property hosting a school-sponsored event and cyberbullying on or off school property.  The law requires districts to develop policies prohibiting cyberbullying, provide notice of an incident of bullying to a parent of a victim no later than the third business day after the incident is reported, and develop procedures for anonymous reporting. A principal or designee is authorized to make a report to local law enforcement on certain conduct constituting assault or harassment and allows districts to alternatively place or expel certain students who bully. The law allows victims of cyberbullying to get temporary restraining orders and creates a civil action as well as a new criminal statute. In addition, counselors will be required to serve as an impartial, nonreporting resource for interpersonal conflicts and discord involving two or more students, including accusations of bullying under Texas Education Code § 37.083.

SB 490—PEIMS reporting of school counselors

Beginning with the 2017–2018 school year, districts and charter school are required to report via the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS), the number of counselors at each campus. The law also requires the number of school counselors providing services at each campus to be included on the district annual performance report.

SB 589—Behavioral analyst licensing

This law creates specific occupational licenses to provide scientific-based, step-by-step treatment for children in the autism spectrum. The law creates an advisory board, complaint procedure, licensure requirements, disciplinary procedures, and authorizes the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to create administration and enforcement rules. Behavioral analyst license requirements go into effect September 1, 2018. The new law does not apply to teachers or employees of public schools who provide behavior analysis within the scope of the teacher’s or employee’s work, as long as the persons do not offer applied behavior analysis services outside of the scope of employment or get paid for providing such services outside of the compensation received from the school.

SB 1566—School board governance, Dallas County Schools, and possession of firearms

This law addresses various issues relating to school board governance and policy. The law authorizes the board to compel a district’s chief business official, curriculum director, or person holding an equivalent position (e.g., chief human resource officer) to appear at an executive session of the board or testify at a public hearing of the board.

The law also provides for the dissolution of Dallas County Public Schools with a possible implementation date for the 2018–2019 school year (see also HB2065).

Provisions relating to the possession of firearms on school property are also incorporated into law. A district may not prohibit a person, including an employee, who holds a Texas license to carry a handgun from transporting or storing a handgun, firearm, or ammunition in a locked, privately owned or leased motor vehicle in a parking lot, parking garage, or other parking area provided by the district or charter school, provided that the handgun, firearm, or ammunition is not in plain view. Districts must coordinate these provisions with the Federal Gun Free School Zones Act requirement that such a firearm be properly stored and unloaded. 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(2)(B).

What didn’t become law

There were numerous bills that did not pass, including SB 789 that addressed TRS health benefit plans and provided districts the ability to opt out of TRS ActiveCare. Some of the bills we reported on in previous issues of HR Exchange became amendments to another bill. Others that failed in this session include the following:
  • HB 816—Teacher mentor programs
  • HB 1918—Professional development grant programs
  • SB 196—Parent notification regarding assignment of full-time nurse, librarian, or counselor
  • SB 1317—Prevented a district from requiring a teacher to report for service at the beginning of a school year earlier than the seventh business day before the first day of instruction
  • SB 1634—Allowed districts to reduce teacher duty days below the currently required 187 duty days proportionate to the reduction in days of student instruction below 180.
  • SB 1886—Creation of a new office of inspector general within the TEA
The Special Session just began and we’ll continue to keep our members informed as the session progresses.

 

Senate Bill 7 addresses improper relationships and educator misconduct

by Amy Campbell

Texas legislators responded to a rise in reports of educator misconduct by passing Senate Bill 7 (SB 7) during the regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature. The law, which takes effect September 1, 2017, adds stronger penalties for misconduct and increases requirements for reporting improper conduct. This article will not cover every change resulting from SB 7; rather, it’s designed to cover the major provisions expected to impact HR in schools.

Expanded definition of educator

Current law prohibits improper relationships between educators and students but limits the definition of educator to employees that are appropriately certified, permitted, licensed, or credentialed in the following positions:
  • Teacher
  • Librarian
  • Administrator
  • School counselor
  • Occupational therapist
  • Physician
  • School psychologist
  • Marriage and family therapist
  • Speech-language pathologist
  • Teacher intern or teacher trainee
  • Educational aide
  • Educational diagnostician
  • Audiologist
  • Physical therapist
  • Nurse
  • Licensed professional counselor
  • Social worker
SB 7 expands the law to cover employees who are not permitted, certified, licensed, or credentialed but are employed in these positions, including charter school and district of innovation employees. 

Increased notification requirements

Under current law, superintendents are required to report to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) certain acts of misconduct if an employee is terminated “based on” evidence of the misconduct. SB 7 revises the law to trigger required notification if the educator was terminated or resigned and “there is” evidence that the educator committed certain acts of misconduct, such as an unlawful act with a minor or a criminal offense on school property. In other words, reporting is required if misconduct occurred; it doesn’t need to be the stated reason for the educator’s termination or resignation.
 
The bill also adds a requirement that principals notify the superintendent, not SBEC, no later than seven business days after the date of an educator’s termination or resignation following an alleged incident of misconduct or after obtaining information about an educator’s criminal record. Principals must also report to the superintendent, no later than seven business days after the date the principal knew information about an educator’s criminal record, even if the educator remains employed by the district. The bill also clarifies superintendents must report to SBEC seven business days after receipt of a report from a principal or the date he or she knew about the termination or resignation related to misconduct or a criminal record.
 
The bill further requires a district to notify the parent or guardian of a student with whom an educator allegedly engaged in abuse or an inappropriate relationship as soon as feasible after the district becomes aware the alleged misconduct may have occurred. The notice must include that the alleged misconduct occurred, whether the educator resigned or was terminated in light of an investigation, and whether a report was submitted to SBEC concerning the alleged misconducted.
 
Immunity for reporting to SBEC is expanded to principals and directors of school districts, districts of innovation, charter schools, regional service centers, and shared service arrangements who report in good faith. The law expands the immunity to apply to communications with other superintendents, directors, and principals about an educator’s criminal record or alleged incident of misconduct.

Increased penalties

While current law already allows SBEC to impose sanctions on superintendents for failing to provide required notice to SBEC, SB 7 extends the allowable sanctions to principals who fail to provide notice to the superintendent. An administrative penalty of between $500 and $10,000 is added for superintendents or principals who fail to provide timely notice. Failure to provide timely notice with an intent to conceal an educator’s criminal record or alleged incident of misconduct is a state jail felony.
 
A former or current school district employee who is a member of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will now lose their annuity if convicted of an improper relationship between educator and student, sexual assault or abuse if the victim is a student, or a similar federal offense.
 
The bill also expands the list of circumstances under which educator certification can be revoked to include conviction or placement on deferred adjudication community supervision for all offenses requiring registration as a sex offender, regardless of the age of the victim. Current law only applied to such offenses if the victim was a minor. Under current law, SBEC must provide notice of an educator’s certificate revocation to the person, TEA, and district not later than the fifth day after the date SBEC receives notice of the conviction or placement on deferred adjudication supervision, and upon receipt of the notice, the district must remove the employee from the campus or administrative office. SB 7 now requires the approval of the board of trustees or designee to take required employment actions, including suspending the person without pay, providing the person with written notification that their employment contract is void, and terminating the person as soon as practicable if the person is employed under Chapter 21 contract.
 
Finally, the bill authorizes SBEC to suspend or revoke a certification or impose other sanctions if a person knows that a person violated the law by engaging in sexual misconduct with a minor or student and helps that person get a job at a school district. 

Other changes

Effective September 1, applicants for positions that fall under the definition of educator will be required to submit a pre-employment affidavit disclosing a charge, adjudication, or conviction based on an inappropriate relationship with a minor, as well as relevant facts and whether the charge was determined to be true or false. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will post a form and develop a rule that provides guidance on how to implement this requirement. Provisions that need to be addressed include what constitutes an affidavit, the definition of inappropriate relationship, and the definition of charge.
 
Of final interest to HR administrations is the requirement for districts to adopt a written policy concerning electronic communications between school employees and students enrolled in the district. Electronic communications is defined in the bill to include any communications facilitated by the use of any electronic device, including e-mails, text messages, instant messages, and messages through websites. District policy must include provisions designed to prevent improper electronic communications between school employees and students and must allow a school employee to elect to not disclose to students a personal telephone number or e-mail address. Policy must also explain how employees notify administrators about a student’s improper communication with them. Recommended changes to Policy DH (LOCAL) will be addressed in Update 109, which will be sent to districts in September. These new provisions are included in the July revisions to the Model Employee Handbook.

Next steps

As always, districts should consult local counsel for expert guidance to comply with changes as a result of SB 7. HR Services will continue to provide assistance and resources to support HR staff in districts and will update our members and materials as TEA rules are issued.

 

Identifying and complying with online accessibility regulations

by Zach DiSchiano

Improving website accessibility for individuals with disabilities is not only a good district practice, but a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Under Section 504, public entities are required to ensure equal access to all programs, services, and activities for individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would result in undue financial and administrative burden or fundamentally alter those programs, services, or activities. These requirements also apply to online programs, services, and activities.

Human resources administrators are consequently affected by these requirements because of their role in the development and implementation of online materials, including employee handbooks, job postings, and dozens of other common forms and documents available on the district’s website.

Understanding accessibility

Website accessibility means people with disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with a website. The concept includes all disabilities impacting access to the Internet:
  • Visual
    • Blindness
    • Low vision
    • Color blindness
  • Auditory
    • Deafness
    • Hard of hearing
  • Motor
    • Inability to use a mouse
    • Slow response time
    • Limited fine motor control
  • Cognitive
    • Learning disabilities
    • Distractibility
    • Inability to remember or focus on large amounts of information

Making web content accessible

Through the use of certain design features and tools, web content can be displayed in ways more likely to be accessible to users with disabilities. Examples of these features and tools include:
  • Using plain language to assist users with cognitive disabilities
  • Using headings and formatting tools in documents and alternative text in images to assist users dependent on screen readers
  • Captioning of videos to assists users with hearing impairments
  • Organizing of links and other navigation elements to assist users who can’t use a mouse
It’s important for districts to initiate discussions on issues related to website accessibility to avoid and resolve complaints in an expeditious manner. There are a wide range of resources to assists districts in transitioning their online content into an accessibility-friendly website: Additionally, TASB HR Services’ editable versions of the Model Employee Handbook have been completely reformatted to support accessibility for individuals with disabilities. It is recommended districts take the time to transfer local information into the 2017 version and refresh the format of their employee handbook.

 

HR Extras

Latest Form I-9 released Monday

USCIS released the latest Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, on July 17. Employers are able to use this revised version or continue using Form I-9 with a revision date of 11/14/16 through September 17. On September 18, employers must use the revised form with a revision date of 07/17/17. Employers must continue following existing storage and retention rules for any previously completed Form I-9.

A copy of the new form and details about the changes are available on the I-9 Central website

Multiple Texas universities to receive portions of $50 million for teacher prep

Several months ago we wrote about the Holdsworth Center, an educational development center focused on improving educational leadership.

The center was founded by HEB Chairman and CEO, Charless Butt, who also serves as the primary donor for Raise Your Hand Texas—an advocacy organization focused on public policies that support public schools. It’s through this organization that 10 universities in Texas will receive shares of $50 million to support scholarship funding for students who commit to teaching and technical support.

Each university will get approximately $5 million over a 10-year period, with the final figure contingent upon how many students pursue the scholarship.

Listed below are the universities receiving the funds:
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • Texas Tech University
  • Texas A&M University’s Educational Psychology program
  • University of Houston
  • Rice University
  • Southern Methodist University
  • University of North Texas at Dallas
  • Trinity University
  • Our Lady of the Lake University
  • University of Texas Rio Grande Valley