Although the Texas Education Code rules regarding lesson plans have been in effect since May 30, 1995, violations still occur on a regular basis. The start of a new school year is the perfect time for a reminder to all administrators and teachers as to the TEC regarding planning periods.

Section 21.404 of the TEC reads: PLANNING AND PREPARATION TIME. Each classroom teacher is entitled to at least 450 minutes within each two-week period for instructional preparation, including parent-teacher conferences, evaluating students' work, and planning. A planning and preparation period under this section may not be less than 45 minutes within the instructional day. During a planning and preparation period, a classroom teacher may not be required to participate in any other activity. (Added by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 260, Sec. 1, eff. May 30, 1995) (Previously Section 13.902)

Highlights:

1. A planning period cannot be fewer than 45 minutes in length.

2. An administrator cannot require a classroom teacher to do anything during his/her planning period other than instructional preparation, including parent-teacher conferences, grading, and planning. It is considered individual planning time.

3. If a teacher has only one 45-minute planning period per day, if that is taken from him/her one day, it must be made up so the TEC condition that “at least 450 minutes within each two-week period” is met.

There is legal precedent regarding violations to this code. Take Strater v. Houston ISD (Docket 129-R8-685). William Strater, a teacher at Lamar Elementary, filed this suit because teachers on his campus were required to attend meetings, during their planning period, to review the campus action plan, conduct group planning, and review bilingual guidelines. The superintendent argued that most faculty members “chose” to have these meetings during their planning period.

In July of 1986, the Texas Commissioner of Education ruled in Strater’s favor. The Commissioner wrote, “The statute clearly relieves the teacher of any duty during this period and prohibits the district and its administration from requiring the teacher to engage in any other activity the administration determines to be useful and important.”

Another case involved a violation of Section 21.404 of the TEC that occurred in the Rio Grande Valley. Linda Chaffin, a teacher in Los Fresnos ISD, filed a grievance when her administrator required her to attend small-group planning sessions three days a week during her planning and preparation period (1990-91 fall semester). When the school board denied her grievance at Level III of the grievance process, Chaffin appealed, which resulted in Linda Chaffin v. Los Fresnos Independent School District (Docket 128-R10-1290).

Lionel R. Meno, the Texas commissioner of education at the time, ruled in Chaffin’s favor, writing that the board of trustees violated the TEC by upholding the action of the administration and “abused its discretion” by doing so. “Petitioner’s appeal, in its entirety, should be GRANTED,” Meno wrote.

It is clearly written in the TEC. It has been upheld in court more than once. All teachers, administrators, and school board trustees need to be aware of it and to follow it.

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com.