As a certified teacher working in Alaska, you know how much time you've devoted to earning your certificate and establishing yourself in your profession. Just to be able to earn an initial certification requires at least four years of college, more if you've earned a master's degree, completing a teacher training program, studying for and passing the tests Alaska requires for teacher certification, and meeting the state's mandatory training requirements. It all adds up to thousands of hours of hard work and probably tens of thousands of dollars of expense.
This is why if you are notified by the Professional Teaching Practices Commission, which administers discipline for teachers and educators certified by the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development, that a misconduct complaint has been filed against you, it's something you need to take very seriously. Being under investigation for misconduct can be a very stressful experience, and depending on the allegations, the outcome can mean losing your teaching certificate temporarily or even permanently. In addition to damaging your reputation, a misconduct finding can result in your losing your livelihood.
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team has compiled this page to provide you with information about teacher and educator discipline in Alaska. We know this may not answer all of your questions, and we encourage you to contact us if you are facing a disciplinary investigation or hearing. Our experienced license defense attorneys can help you understand the process, protect your rights, and defend your teaching certification.
Ways Alaska's Professional Teaching Practices Commission Can Discipline Educators
As noted above, in Alaska, teacher and educator disciplinary matters are handled by the Professional Teaching Practices Commission, which has the responsibility of enforcing ethical standards among Alaska's certified educators. The PTPC has the power to discipline teachers and administrators, though in the case of administrator discipline, the Commissioner of the Department of Education & Early Development must concur with the PTPC's discipline proposal. The PTPC may discipline teachers and educators in the following ways:
- Warn. The PTPC may warn a teacher or educator that their conduct is not ethical and should be corrected, or more serious sanctions could result. While the text of the warning is private, the fact that the educator has been warned is public information.
- Reprimand. A reprimand is a public notification of the educator's violation of the ethical requirements that becomes part of the educator's certification file. It is also reported to the NASDTEC Educator Identification Clearinghouse, a national teacher disciplinary database, so that other states that use the database can be aware that the teacher has been reprimanded.
- Suspend. The educator's certification may be suspended for a specific time period, and conditions may also be imposed before the suspension will be lifted. The suspension is public and is reported to NASDTEC.
- Revoke. The educator's certification may be taken away entirely. Unless it is revoked for life, the educator may request reinstatement, but only where Alaska law allows. Revocation of an educator's certification is reported to NASDTEC.
Even the mildest form of PTPC discipline – a warning – can damage your reputation, and suspension or revocation of your certification can mean you instantly lose your livelihood. It's important to do everything you can to protect your rights and to defend yourself if you're being investigated or disciplined for misconduct. The experienced attorneys who are part of the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you make sure you understand the allegations against you, collect any information that could be helpful to your defense, and vigorously defend your interests in any discussions with PTPC investigators and in any hearing that may take place.
What Standards Does the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development Expect Educators to Uphold?
While many of the teaching standards in the Alaska Administrative Code (AAC) describe things teachers are not supposed to do, there are a number of affirmative requirements. These include:
- Making sure students are protected from “conditions harmful to health and safety”
- Not disclosing confidential information received in the course of their work, except where doing so “serves a compelling professional purpose or is required by law”
- Treating all students equally and fairly
- Being careful to distinguish between their own personal views and the views of their school
- Cooperating with the state's student assessment system, including keeping testing information secure and following test administration
- Treating other teachers equally and fairly
Grounds for Teacher Discipline in Alaska
Teachers can be disciplined for a wide range of behaviors deemed to be unethical by the PTPC. Some of the more typical ones include:
- Misappropriating school funds or using school property for personal gain without permission
- Engaging in unprofessional or inappropriate relationships with students, whether or not it includes sexual contact
- Sexually harassing students or fellow employees
- Falsifying information in connection with their certification or in connection with their job duties
- Breaching their employment contract, typically involving leaving their position before the school year is over
- Working while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Accepting gifts in return for work-related favors or preferences
- Retaliating against anyone who files a complaint against them
Don't Assume the Truth Will Protect You from Sanctions in Alaska
If you've been notified that a misconduct complaint has been filed against you, your first reaction might be, “This is all just a big misunderstanding,” and your second might be, “When I explain what really happened, I'm sure this whole thing will just go away.” Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the outcome.
The PTPC has an obligation to investigate misconduct claims, and that investigation is likely to continue through its completion, no matter what you have to say to the PTPC investigator. In addition, there is always the danger that your explanation will be misunderstood, may not actually help you, or may lead to more questions and more problems than it solves. That's where working with an experienced professional license defense attorney from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help. Our lawyers know how to communicate with PTPC investigators to provide helpful information in a clear manner that will also protect your rights. At the same time, we can also conduct our own investigation if there is additional information that might be available that could help you.
The Process for Disciplining Teachers in Alaska
The PTPC has a specific way that it manages teacher and educator misconduct complaints and the investigation and disciplinary process. Steps include the following:
- Initial review of the complaint. The PTPC reviews the allegations in the complaint. If they don't describe behavior that would be considered a violation of the ethics requirements or of the law, then they may not investigate further. Similarly, except in serious misconduct cases, complaining parties are expected to try to resolve matters at the local level before getting the PTPC involved.
- Investigation. Assuming the complaint meets the PTPC standards, commission staff will investigate the allegations. They may issue subpoenas to witnesses, interview them, and collect documents relevant to the alleged misconduct. If the PTPC decides not to move forward with the complaint at any point up to the close of the investigation, the person who filed the complaint can appeal the dismissal to the PTPC's Executive Director.
- Formal accusation. Where the PTPC staff decides that there is enough evidence to support the misconduct complaint, it will issue a formal accusation. The accused teacher then has the right to file a notice of defense. In some cases, where the violation is not deemed serious enough, the PTPC may conduct a reprimand hearing to determine whether the least severe form of punishment, a private reprimand, should be issued against the teacher.
- Formal hearing. In cases where more severe conduct is alleged, and the teacher has filed a notice of defense, the case will proceed to a hearing before an administrative law judge. Witnesses may appear at the hearing and will testify under oath and may be cross-examined. The judge will issue a ruling at the close of the hearing.
- Order Issued by PTPC. Based on the ruling in the hearing, the PTPC will issue an order. If it goes against the teacher, it will impose one of the sanctions listed above against the teacher. The teacher has the right to ask a court to review this order.
What Happens if You Are Disciplined by the Professional Teaching Practices Commission?
If your certification is suspended or revoked, that status will be displayed to the public when they search for you on the Alaska Teacher Certificate Lookup webpage. The PTPC will also include the results of public disciplinary cases in reports of “Recent Commission Action” that it posts on its website, as well as in its annual reports.
In addition, during any suspension and after a revocation of your teaching certificate, you will not be allowed to work in a position that requires a certificate. Finally, your status will be reported to the NASDTEC Educator Identification Clearinghouse, and in the event you apply for a teaching credential in a state that is a member of NASDTEC, your suspended or revoked status will be displayed there as well.
How the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team Can Help
At the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team, our attorneys have years of experience helping professional license holders – including teaching certificate holders – protect their licenses in Alaska and in states across the US. Whether your school is part of the Juneau, Anchorage, or Fairbanks school districts or is in a less populated district such as North Slope, Iditarod, or Yupit, our attorneys are ready to help you protect your rights from the beginning of the investigative process through the resolution of your case. We understand how stressful this is for you because we've helped so many other license and certificate holders fight these battles in the past.
Our professional license defense attorneys understand the law, the procedures, and how to protect and defend your rights and your good name in disciplinary investigations and proceedings in Alaska. If you've been notified that you're the subject of a misconduct investigation, don't delay – call the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team today at 888.535.3686 or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation. We know this is a difficult time for you, and we're here to listen and to help!