As a certified teacher or educator in Alabama, you know better than anyone how hard you've worked to earn the certification that is so important to your position and your career. You've spent years in college as well as possibly more time training focusing on your area of expertise; met the Alabama State Education Department's standards for one or more teaching, educator, or school staff certificates in your particular field; and studied for, taken, and passed any tests needed in connection with your certificate or certificates.
All of this time, effort, and expense may go to waste if a misconduct complaint is filed against you and the Education Department investigates it and serves you with a Notice of Proposed Action that puts your certification at risk. If you simply ignore the notice, it's very possible that the Education Department will enforce the proposed punishment against you. Depending on the situation, this could mean your certification could be suspended or even revoked, meaning you could no longer work in a teaching or educator position that requires certification.
This is why if you learn that the Alabama State Education Department is investigating a misconduct complaint filed about you, you need to take it seriously. Working with one of the experienced professional license defense attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team is one way to help make sure that your rights are protected throughout the disciplinary process and that you present as strong a defense as possible to the misconduct claims.
Ways that Alabama Can Discipline Teachers
The Alabama State Superintendent of Education has the power to discipline certified teachers. The Superintendent may impose any of the following forms of discipline on a certificate holder found to have committed misconduct:
- Issue a public reprimand. This does not affect the status of the teacher or educator's certification, but because it's public, it can damage your professional reputation. The letter may also require you to do certain things, such as complete an ethics training or other type of course, or to agree to provide periodic status updates to the Education Department.
- Suspend a certification, either for a definite period of time, or until certain conditions are met, or both. For example, a teacher who has been found to have a drug or alcohol problem may be required to receive and complete treatment before a certificate suspension will be listed.
- Refuse to renew a certification.
- Revoke a certification. This is a complete loss of the certification.
What Standards Does the Alabama State Department of Education Expect Teachers to Uphold?
The Alabama State Department of Education maintains a Code of Ethics that lists specific standards it expects teachers and educators to follow. In particular, educators should:
- Follow “generally recognized professional standards,” and should encourage and support their colleagues in developing high standards, respect their fellow educators, and continue to develop themselves professionally as educators.
- Be trustworthy. They should “properly represent facts” in connection with educational matters, advocate for fair treatment of all students, and exemplify for their students “the characteristics of intellectual honesty, diplomacy, tact, and fairness.”
- Follow by the law, and should not commit any crime that is a felony or that involves “moral turpitude.”
- Maintain professional relationships with their students.
- Never use alcohol, drugs, or tobacco “during the course of professional practice” and should “never use illegal or unauthorized drugs.”
- Take care to properly handle public funds and property.
- Not accept significant gifts, favors, or additional compensation from students or their family members or from vendors.
- Keep confidential student and school personnel records.
- Follow the terms of their employment contract and not abandon their position during the contract term.
Grounds for Teacher Discipline in Alabama
Teachers and educators who fail to meet any of the standards set forth in the Alabama State Department of Education Code of Ethics can be disciplined for their failure to do so. Common causes of teacher and educator discipline in Alabama include:
- Inappropriate student relationships. This can range from exchanging inappropriate texts, emails, or other communications with a student, to entering into a sexual relationship with a student.
- Physical assault against a student. Striking, grabbing, or other physical actions against a student can result in discipline.
- Working while intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Note that this charge can sometimes be the result of an unanticipated adverse reaction to a properly prescribed drug, where the adverse reaction mimics intoxication.
- Sexual assault against a student.
- Fraud, including misappropriation of school funds or property, or use of school property for personal gain without prior permission.
- Breaking the employment contract, in particular, by abandoning the teaching position before the year is up.
- Being convicted of a felony or of any crime of “moral turpitude.”
- Failing to keep confidential student information that is supposed to be kept confidential.
Don't Assume the Truth Will Protect You From Sanctions in Alabama
One natural reaction once you learn that a misconduct complaint has been filed against you is to think that “it's all just a big misunderstanding” and that “once I talk to them and tell them what actually happened this will all go away.” Unfortunately, that approach rarely works. The Education Department has an obligation to investigate misconduct claims and is not likely to end that investigation based solely on what you have to say to them about the allegations.
In addition, in the course of talking with the Education Department, you may inadvertently say things that actually hurt your case or that are misconstrued by the investigator and end up making it more difficult for you to resolve the matter. This is why it can be so important to have the help of an experienced certificate defense attorney as soon as you learn that a misconduct complaint has been filed against you. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can work with you to make sure that your rights are protected at every step of the disciplinary process, from investigation, to discussions with the Education Department, to any hearing or negotiation that may take place.
The Process for Disciplining Teachers in Alabama
Once a misconduct complaint is filed with the Alabama State Department of Education, it is likely to take the following steps to investigate and resolve it:
- Examination of the complaint. This is done to make sure that the complaint covers a conduct issue that the Education Department regulates.
- Investigation of the allegation. Assuming the alleged misconduct is of the type that the Education Department has responsibility for, an investigation will follow. You may or may not learn that this is taking place, depending on the situation. The investigator may interview you as well as others who may have information about the alleged misconduct and may gather relevant documentary and electronic evidence as well.
- Written Notice of Proposed Action. If the Education Department decides to move forward with a misconduct proceeding against you, you will be served with a written Notice of Proposed Action. This will list the reasons for the proposed action, what the proposed action against you is, and what your rights are to challenge the proposed action at a hearing.
- Request for a Hearing. If you intend to contest the proposed action, you need to file a request for a hearing within 15 days of having received the notice. If you fail to meet that deadline, you will waive your opportunity for a hearing, and the proposed action will be submitted to the Superintendent of Education for implementation against you.
- Potential Settlement. In some cases, the Department of Education may agree to enter into settlement discussions and may propose a specific form of discipline if you agree not to contest the allegations. Whether or not to accept this, or even to enter into settlement discussions, is something that one of our experienced professional license defense attorneys can help you with.
- Hearing. If the matter doesn't settle, it will proceed to a hearing before a hearing officer. This will operate very much like a trial and can include witness testimony, cross-examination, and the introduction of documentary evidence. At the close of the hearing, the hearing officer will prepare a written recommendation with respect to the proposed action to the Superintendent of Education. The hearing officer typically has 30 days to submit this but can take longer, as necessary.
- Final Order. The Superintendent will issue a final order based on the hearing officer's recommendation. The Superintendent has the power to accept, reject, or modify the hearing officer's recommendation. The Superintendent's final order will be sent to you, and you'll have 15 days after the order was entered to apply for a rehearing. In addition, after all administrative remedies have been tried, you may be able to appeal a final order to an Alabama state court.
What Happens if the Alabama Superintendent of Education Issues a Final Order Disciplining You?
The Education Department periodically issues a public report that identifies and summarizes disciplinary actions entered against teachers and educators in Alabama. Even in situations where your certificate is not suspended or revoked, the disciplinary action affecting you will be reported to city and county school superintendents in a memorandum that can be accessed by the public.
If your certificate is suspended or revoked, you will not be able to be employed in a position that requires that certificate. If you have to meet certain conditions as part of reinstating your certificate, you will have to follow those conditions if you want to be able to resume teaching or return to work as an educator.
How the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team Can Help
Our experienced professional license defense attorneys understand how teacher and educator disciplinary investigations and proceedings work in Alabama. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team has helped professionals, including credentialed educators, defend themselves in disciplinary proceedings in Alabama and all over the country. We can help you gather the information you need to protect your good name; understand the allegations against you; negotiate with the Education Department where that can help you; and defend you and your good name in any hearing that may occur.
From Huntsville to Mobile, Tuscaloosa to Auburn, Birmingham to Montgomery, and anywhere else in Alabama, our experienced professional license defense attorneys are ready to learn about your situation and defend your rights and your teaching certificate. If you've been served with a notice that a disciplinary proceeding has been filed against you, don't delay – call the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team today at 888.535.3686, or use our online contact form to schedule a confidential consultation. You only have one reputation; let us help you protect it!