News Stream

Excessive texting, inappropriate therapy justify revocation

Although no evidence existed that a revoked educator violated a specific rule, his overall conduct was sufficiently inappropriate to warrant the sanction, a Texas court held November 25. The ruling upheld a decision by the state’s Board for Educator Certification to revoke the certificate of a teacher based on his inappropriate actions providing physical therapy to students on his school’s track and field team (State Board for Educator Certification v. Montalvo).

In 2008, Erasmo Montalvo, a high school physical education teacher and track coach, was acquitted of felony charges of maintaining an improper relationship after a student accused him of sexual assault.

Despite the acquittal, the Texas Education Agency filed a disciplinary action against Montalvo, seeking to revoke his educator certificate. In its allegations, the agency alleged, among other things, that Montalvo had engaged in a sexual relationship with the student, had allowed her to use the jacuzzi at his home, and had exchanged approximately 480 texts with her over the course of a four-month period.

After a hearing in which an administrative law judge found insufficient evidence to discipline Montalvo, the State Board for Educator Certification nevertheless revoked his license, leaving the judge’s recommendations and findings of fact essentially intact but changing its conclusions to recommend that Montalvo be disciplined.

Montalvo appealed the board’s decision and a state district court reversed it, holding that the revocation was not supported by substantial evidence and was arbitrary and capricious. The board appealed, and the case went up to the Court of Appeals of Texas in Austin, which issued an opinion written by Justice Melissa Goodwin.

Based on the evidence presented in the board’s case, the appeals court found that substantial evidence existed to conclude that Montalvo was unfit to teach. In particular, the court noted the excessive texting, Montalvo’s habit of providing rubdowns and physical training despite not being trained to do so, and the use, by the student, of Montalvo’s home Jacuzzi when school Jacuzzis were available.

Montalvo argued that none of his conduct actually violated any specific rules of the state’s Code of Ethics, but the court noted that regulations governing teacher conduct provide a basis for discipline independent of a violation of the Code and allow the board to assess potential harm when disciplining an educator’s license.

“We agree with the Board that, based on the totality of the evidence of Montalvo’s conduct, it was reasonable—not arbitrary and capricious or an unwarranted exercise of discretion—for the Board to conclude that Montalvo crossed the bounds of a proper educator-student relationship even in the absence of any violations of the Code of Ethics or other rules or policies,” wrote Justice Goodwin.