Education Commissioner Cannot Preempt Venue

The Texas Supreme Court recently ruled that, when a school district and a teacher agree to Travis County as the venue where their dispute should be decided, the Commissioner of Education cannot block that choice.

In the case of Presidio Independent School District v. Robert Scott, as Commissioner of Education, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Tex. 2010)(4/23/10), a teacher was fired after a hearing examiner concluded he violated school district’s policy on corporal punishment. The teacher filed a petition for review with the Commissioner of Education, who ultimately determined the teacher should be reinstated. The district appealed by filing suit in Travis County district court, a venue permissible when “all parties” consent, as the teacher did here. The Commissioner appealed, claiming his consent was necessary, too. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the statute does not include the Commissioner as a “party” whose consent is required for venue in Travis County.

“After the Commissioner adjudicates the dispute between a teacher and a school district, 21.307(a) [of the Texas Education Code] allows ‘[e]ither party’ to appeal the Commissioner’s decision in one of two possible venues: (1) a district court in the school district’s county; or (2) ‘if agreed by all parties, a district court in Travis County.'”

“If a school district seeks to terminate a teacher, the teacher may request a hearing before a certified hearing examiner who develops the record, conducts a bench trial, and ultimately makes a written recommendation that includes proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and if the examiner so chooses, a proposal for granting relief. Next, the school district’s board of trustees or board subcommittee considers the recommendation and may adopt, reject, or change the hearing examiner’s conclusions of law or proposal for granting relief.” If dissatisfied, the “teacher may appeal to the Commissioner. . . .” Normally, the Commissioner shall determine the “‘appeal solely on the basis of the local record.'” After he decides, “either party” may then appeal.