Special Investigations Unit Investigative Procedures
Scope and Authority Purpose
The authority to investigate school districts and charter schools is specified under Chapter 39 of the Texas Education Code. The Commissioner of Education or the Commissioner’s designee authorizes the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) to conduct a Special Accreditation Investigations (SAI) pursuant to TEC §§ 39.057 and 39.058.
SIU investigates complaints referred by TEA’s Complaints Management Division. SIU also accepts referrals from TEA program areas or executive management based on concerns identified through program area compliance monitoring functions or external referrals. SIU may also initiate investigations based on facts discovered during an already initiated investigation. This may include investigations of other LEAs.
This document contains the procedures for investigations of school districts and charter schools conducted by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) of the Texas Education Agency (TEA). These procedures supersede any former procedures issued by or covering SIU and pertain to all current or future investigations as of the effective date of these procedures. Passage of these procedures is with the authority of the Commissioner of Education. These procedures are interpreted and applied at the sole discretion of the Commissioner of Education and are not subject to judicial review or otherwise intended to provide additional rights not otherwise already provided by law.These procedures do not apply to an on-site investigation conducted under TEC § 39.056.
Part I. Initial Review
SIU conducts a preliminary inquiry and review of the facts and circumstances relating to a potential investigation. This inquiry which may include obtaining additional documents or information from complainants, witnesses, other agencies, and/or the local education agency itself.
After completing its preliminary inquiry, if SIU determines a Special Accreditation is warranted, SIU makes a recommendation to the Commissioner of Education or the Commissioner’s designee for final approval of the SAI.
Not all preliminary inquiries result in a SAI. Some inquiries will be dismissed as the allegations contained within the complaint referral do not allege facts that, if true, would lend to a violation of law, rule, or policy. SIU may also suspect a violation of law, rule, or policy, but may not determine that such violation rises to the level of requiring a SAI. In such event, SIU may seek to enter into an agreement with the LEA or may refer the matter to other divisions of the Texas Education Agency for potential application of corrective actions or other sanctions.
Part II. Notification
If a SAI is authorized by the Commissioner or the Commissioner’s designee, a written notice of investigation is sent by SIU to the superintendent and all board members of the LEA.
This written notification will include:
- A copy of these SIU procedures;
- The allegation(s) or matter(s) under investigation;
- Contact information for the appropriate TEA representative to whom requests for, and delivery of, information may be directed.
The initial notification may also include requests for records and data from the LEA and may also request the contact information and availability of certain witnesses.
During a SAI, SIU may obtain information prompting the already initiated SAI be expanded into new areas of investigation. Should SIU choose to expand its investigation, it may provide the LEA with an amended notification describing the additional areas of investigation. The effect of multiple notices being issued in one SAI is cumulative. Unless otherwise described in an amended notice, previously issued notices remain in full force and effect upon the issuance of an amended notice.
Part III. Process of Investigation
Once a SAI has commenced, SIU may perform an initial desk review of records and data provided by the LEA, any third party, or otherwise already in possession of TEA. This information includes, but is not limited to, documents, all forms of written or electronic communications, aggregated and other forms of data, and witness interviews occurring before, or during, a Special Accreditation Investigation. The SIU may determine that the results of the desk review are sufficient to determine the conclusions of a preliminary report. The desk review may also prompt SIU to conduct further investigation.
SIU may, at any time during the investigation, determine that an on-site investigation is required. Notice of an on-site visit shall be provided to the LEA. Unless SIU determines that doing so could jeopardize the integrity of the investigation, SIU shall conduct a meeting with the LEA Superintendent prior to the onsite visit. An overview of the investigative process will be discussed with the superintendent or a designee at that time and a copy of procedures will be provided.
Interviews may be conducted at any time with the LEA staff, parents, students, and other persons who may possess relevant information relating to the SAI. If SIU determines the need to interview a student, SIU will contact the parent or guardian of that student. Student interviews of a minor child require the written consent and presence of the parent or guardian. If the parent or guardian is unable to attend but gives written consent, the parent or guardian may designate a non-LEA employee as a representative to be present during the interview.
The SIU investigator(s) may meet with the superintendent (or a designee) before exiting the district. During the exit conference, SIU staff will remind the superintendent the investigation is ongoing and will give the superintendent contact information for the SIU investigator(s). SIU investigators will also remind that superintendent that the details of the investigation remain confidential, and that any attempts on the part of any employee or agent of the LEA to interfere with the investigation may result in additional grounds for investigation and additional sanctions.
Part IV. Cooperation of the LEA required
Special Accreditation Investigations shall be conducted in such a way that allow the agency to obtain information from district employees in a manner that prevents a district or campus from screening the information.
If the LEA is represented by legal counsel, Board Members and LEA employees presently having a managerial responsibility with a LEA that relates to the subject of the investigation, and other presently employed persons of an LEA whose act or omission in connection with the subject of the investigation may make the LEA vicariously liable for such act or omission, shall have legal representation for the LEA present, unless the LEA and its counsel otherwise provides consent to proceed with the interview without the legal counsel. This section does not apply if any interviewee elects to bring personal counsel.
For all other interviewees, legal counsel representing the LEA shall not be present during the interview. All interviewees may have legal counsel representing the interviewee in the interviewee's individual capacity present. However, in no event will an attorney jointly representing any individual employee and the LEA be present.
Except for the ability of the LEA to provide legal counsel for certain persons, investigator(s) and the interviewee are the only individuals who be present during an interview.
Reliance on evidence from confidential sources:
At any time prior to disclosure witnesses may request that their identity be kept confidential and not associated with portions of, or all, the information they provide during their interviews. If, as determined by the investigator, such a request is based upon a credible fear of retaliation or other foreseeable negative consequences investigators will make efforts to keep the source of the information confidential, including not disclosing the witnesses' identity in any report. Investigators shall obtain corroborating evidence concerning information obtained form confidential sources before relying upon it in the preliminary or final reports, and shall consider the confidential nature of the information when assigning it its due weight.
Cooperation and candor to the Agency
The LEA will be cooperative, candid, and honest in all matters related to any stage of a SAI. Willful failure on the part of any of the LEA's employees or agents to provide any document or candidly reply to any request for information may result in a negative presumption against the LEA wherein investigators may view the contents of the withheld document or answer to the evaded question in the light least favorable to the LEA.
Knowingly supplying false information to investigators in the course of a SAI may be considered interference with the investigation and may result in SIU issuing an amended notice including additional grounds for investigation and possible sanctions.
An LEA whose employee or other agent knowingly supplies false information to investigators, or who performs an act that has the effect, or attempted effect, of intimidating, retaliating against, or in any way influencing the candid testimony of any witness or otherwise interfering with a SAI may be issued an amended notice expanding the SAI for further investigation and potential sanctions.
Part V. Investigative Reports
Upon completion of the SAI, SIU will issue a preliminary report in accordance with Section 39.058 of the TEC and Chapter 157 of the TAC. The preliminary report is a draft and audit working papers of the investigation.
The preliminary report will be provided to any person TEA finds to have violated a law, rule, or policy and will:
- Describe the factual and legal basis for each violation;
- Identify the action to be taken as a result of the accreditation investigation;
- Describe the procedures for obtaining an informal review of the findings in the preliminary investigative report;
- Identify the TEA representative to whom the request for informal review may be addressed; and,
- Set a deadline for requesting and submitting items and information to be considered during the informal review
If the preliminary report finds no violation of law, rule, or policy the TEA may issue this report as its final report. In addition, if the SIU finds no violations of law, rule, or policy, SIU may administratively close the investigation without issuing a preliminary or final report. The district will receive notice if the SIU administratively closes the investigation. Any SAI may be reopened by SIU at any time if it is determined to be necessary based on new or additional evidence, a new complaint, or review of data from another program area within TEA.
An LEA subject to sanctions as a result of a SAI may request, in writing, an informal review. A written request for informal review must be addressed to the designated TEA representative. The written request must be received by the TEA representative on or before the deadline identified in the preliminary report. Any individual or entity entitled to and requesting an informal review may submit written information to the TEA representative by the deadline set forth in the preliminary report. The TEA representative may require attendance at a meeting at the TEA headquarters in Austin, Texas, or by telephone, to discuss the findings and/or provide additional information for review.
For an informal review of a decision to non-renew the charter of an open-enrollment charter school pursuant to the Texas Education Code (TEC), §12.1141(c), or a decision to revoke the charter of an open-enrollment charter school or reconstitute the governing board of the charter holder under the TEC, §12.115(a), the TEA representative shall, at the request of the open-enrollment charter school, meet with representatives form the open-enrollment charter school at the TEA headquarters in Austin, Texas, or by telephone if requested by the open-enrollment charter school. This meeting is part of the informal review but is not a contested case hearing. The meeting will not include the examination of any witnesses, including TEA staff. The rules of civil procedure and evidence, including rules prohibiting ex parte communications, do not apply.
Following the informal review by the TEA representative, a final report, assignment, determination, or decision will be issued. The final report, assignment, determination, or decision may include changes or additions to the preliminary report or action, and such modifications are not subject to another informal review procedure. A final report, assignment, determination, or decision issued following an informal review is final and may not b appealed, except as provided by law or rule. For an informal review of a decision to non-renew the charter of an open-enrollment charter school pursuant to the TEC, §12.1141(c), or a decision to revoke the charter of an open-enrollment charter school or reconstitute the governing board of the charter holder under the TEC, §12.115(a), the final decision shall provide a written response to any information the charter holder submits under this section.
The issuance of a final report does not preclude the agency from taking further action relating to the same transaction of events that prompted the SAI should further material facts come to light that show, in the judgment of the Commissioner of Education or designee, that the LEA is in breach of any agreement, corrective action plan, or any other sanction resulting from the SAI.
Part VI. Agreement of the Parties
TEA, at the recommendation of SIU and with the authority of the Commissioner of Education or designee, may enter into an agreement with the LEA at any time during the process described by these procedures. This agreement may include any terms that the agency and the LEA may agree to unless prohibited by law. A material breach of any agreement entered into between TEA and the LEA may lead SIU to reinitiate a SAI based upon the underlying facts prompting the agreement. Whether a material breach of an agreement between the LEA and TEA has occurred shall be at the sole discretion of the Commissioner of Education or designee. Agreements made between an LEA and TEA are not subject to judicial review.
Part VII. Release of Information, Referrals, Procedural Matters
SIU may refer allegations, evidence, or investigative findings to other areas of the agency, to other state or federal agencies, or to appropriate law enforcement at any time during an investigation, preliminary report, including referring the final report at the conclusion of an investigation. If the report includes suspected criminal violations, the report and the underlying evidence may be submitted to the appropriate law enforcement authority, including the county district attorney. Evidence that one or more educators violated a state or federal law may be referred to the Educator Investigations Division or to the Student Assessment Division for further review and determinations.
TEA complies with the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) regarding the release of information in response to a request for public information. Information can only be kept confidential to the extent allowed by law. If audit working papers and drafts relating to the investigation are requested by the public, TEA will seek to withhold them from release through the Office of the Attorney General.
Inquiries received from the media will be directed to the TEA Office of Communications. Until a final report is issued, an investigation is ongoing and SIU will not release any information regarding the investigation until it is final.
A copy of these procedures will be made available to the complainant, and the public via the TEA website (www.tea.texas.gov).
SIU staff will be trained in the above-listed procedures and will follow these procedures in conducting SAI investigations.
Any modifications to these procedures or the complaint resolution procedures may be ratified by the Commissioner or the Commissioner’s designee at any time.
Special Investigations Unit
Phone: (512) 463-9141