THE SCHOOL DISTRICTS’ SUIT AGAINST T.E.A. WAS NOT RIPE FOR REVIEW
Case citation: BridgeportISDv. Williams, __ S.W.3d __, 2014 WL 2191035 (Tex. App. – Austin 2014).
Summary: A number of school districts filed suit against the Commissioner of Education and the Texas Education Agency, challenging the validity of the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Guide, arguing that TEA did not have statutory authority to adopt it. Further, ninety-two school districts sought judicial review of preliminary 2012 AYP designation determinations. After unsuccessful appeals before the TEA, these two appeals to state district court were consolidated. TEA and the Commissioner filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that the school districts had failed to allege facts to establish that they had “any legal right or privilege that has been interfered with or impaired.” They also challenged the district’s standing to assert claims, raised sovereign immunity, and argued that the districts were seeking an advisory opinion. The trial court entered an order of dismissal, granting the plea to the jurisdiction and the school districts appealed.
Ruling: The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal in favor of TEA and the Commissioner. The school districts challenged the 2012 AYP Guide, its “bridge study” methodology, and the use of single test administration to determine AYP designations. TEA and the Commissioner argued that the claims were moot because the United States Department of Education (USDE) granted TEA a waiver in September 2013 from the requirement that it issue AYP designation determinations. The districts, on the other hand, asserted that their claims are not moot because USDE’s waiver is “an extremely complicated, short-lived, and conditional agreement” that “expires in May, of its own terms.”
The appeals court ultimately concluded that the districts’ claims were not ripe for review. The ripeness doctrine “emphasizes the need for a concrete injury for a justiciable claim to be presented” and examines when an action may be brought. It focuses on whether the case involves “uncertain or contingent future events” that may not occur as anticipated, or may not occur at all. The ripeness doctrine also serves to avoid premature adjudication. Whether claims are ripe is “determined at the time of adjudication.”
According to the court of appeals, the alleged injury remains contingent and the districts’ claims were not ripe for review. A ruling on the issues presented would result in a premature, “advisory opinion.” Because the districts failed to present a sufficiently ripe, justiciable claim, the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal in favor of TEA and the Commissioner.
Editors’ Note: The cases reported below concern the jurisdictional authority of the Commissioner of Education. The Commissioner has jurisdiction over violations of the “school laws of this state” and the regulations adopted under those laws. The Commissioner also has jurisdiction over violations of employment contracts that caused, or would cause, monetary harm. To establish jurisdiction, petitioners also must exhaust administrative remedies at the district level. Recently the Commissioner dismissed a number of cases for lack of jurisdiction. The cases are summarized briefly below.
Case citation & summary: Floresv. Bryan ISD, Dkt. No.059-R10-07-2013 (Comm’r Educ. February 14, 2014). Roy Flores filed an appeal with the Commissioner of Education claiming that the school district was improperly filing suits for criminal negligence against parents whose children are tardy for class. However, Flores had not been subject to such a suit and he failed to show that there was even a probability that such a suit would be sought against him. Thus, Flores did not have standing to bring the case under Texas Education Code § 7.057, which requires the party to have sustained, or be in immediate danger of sustaining, some direct injury. Here, Flores’s interest as a parent, a taxpayer, and community member did not provide him with standing because he failed to show that he had sustained, or was in immediate danger of sustaining, an injury as a result of the district’s alleged practice of filing charges against parents of children who are tardy from class.
Case citation & summary: Childv. McKinney ISD, Dkt. No. 026-R10-12-2012 (Comm’r Educ. May 23, 2014). A student claimed that the district improperly suspended him from extracurricular activities and improperly removed him from a class related to an extracurricular activity. The Commissioner does not have jurisdiction over disciplinary actions under Chapter 37 of the Education Code. The Commissioner also did not have jurisdiction over relief sought by the student under the Texas Open Meetings Act, because the Commissioner could not void the board’s discipline decision. Further, according to the Commissioner, the student’s removal from class and extracurricular activities did not constitute due process claims. The Commissioner dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
Case citation & summary: Flintv. Corpus Christi ISD, Dkt. No. 067-R10-07-2013 (Comm’r Educ. May 23, 2014). Cheryl Flint, a teacher in the Corpus Christ Independent School District, filed an appeal with the Commissioner complaining that she was improperly directed to change grades in violation of Texas Education Code § 28.0214(a). That provision states that a course grade issued by a classroom teacher is final and may not be changed “unless the grade is arbitrary, erroneous, or not consistent with the school district grading policy applicable to the grade, as determined by the board of trustees of the school district in which the teacher is employed.” The determination of whether a grade is proper is to be made by the school board and the board’s decision is not appealable unless it is related to a student’s extracurricular activities. Because the board’s decision is final and not subject to appeal, the Commissioner lacked jurisdiction over the appeal.
Case citation & summary: Jennings v. Boerne ISD, Dkt. No. 094-R10-0711 (Comm’r Educ. May 15, 2014). Sandy Jennings appealed the Boerne Independent School District’s decision to nonrenew her contract. However, the same claims had already been decided in a previous Commissioner decision, Jennings v. Boerne ISD, 084-R1-0711 (Comm’r Educ. 2011). Thus, the Commissioner lacked jurisdiction over the appeal.
Case citation & summary: Pierce v. Orangefield ISD, Dkt. No. 058-R10-0511 (Comm’r Educ. May 14, 2014). Troy Pierce filed an appeal with the Commissioner complaining that the district failed to take action against an assistant principal for the alleged violation of the Code of Ethics and Standard Practices for Texas Educators. According to the Commissioner, the State Board for Educator Certification, not the Commissioner, adopts and enforces the Code of Ethics. Thus, the Commissioner lacked jurisdiction over the appeal.
Case citation & summary: Reyes v. Aransas Pass ISD, Dkt. No. 011-R10-10-2012 (Comm’r Educ. May 23, 2014). Teresa Reyes, an employee of Aransas Pass Independent School District, appealed to the Commissioner, claiming that the district created documents stating that Reyes violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). However, Reyes’s petition failed to properly plead a violation of a written employment contract or violation of the school laws of Texas. The appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
Case citation & summary: Tafoyav. El Paso ISD, Dkt. No. 007-R10-09-2013 (Comm’r Educ. May 23, 2014). Robbie Tafoya filed grievances claiming that high-ranking officials in the District threatened and subjected him to retaliation in response to his complaints regarding his supervisor’s actions and alleged illegal practices at his school. Each grievance was resolved by agreement and Tafoya filed no other grievances before filing an appeal with the Commissioner. Because Tafoya could not point out any decision by the board subject to review by the Commissioner, Tafoya failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The appeal was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.