As a teacher who is certified and working in Arizona, you know how much time and effort you've spent to get to where you are today. In addition to the years of college and student teaching experience, you've had to study for and pass one or more of the exams that Arizona requires before it will issue a teaching certificate. Depending on where and what you teach, you may have multiple certificates; Arizona has more than 20 different types of teaching certificates for grades K-12 and 10 more certificates for non-teaching school personnel such as principals, supervisors, counselors, and the like.
This is why if you are notified by the Arizona State Board of Education that a formal complaint has been filed against you, you need to take it very seriously. Depending on the circumstances and the allegations in the complaint, at a minimum, your professional reputation is on the line, and in more serious cases, your teaching certificate could be as well. Your career and your livelihood could suffer if the outcome of the complaint process is a finding that you've engaged in misconduct, so it's important that you do everything you can to defend yourself against the complaint's allegations.
This is where the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help. Our experienced attorneys understand the teacher and educator disciplinary process in Arizona, and we can help you understand the charges against you, navigate the disciplinary process, and present the strongest defense possible on your behalf. Disciplinary proceedings are serious and stressful matters, and having an experienced attorney by your side through the entire process can both reduce that stress and improve your chances of a favorable outcome.
Ways the Arizona State Board of Education Can Discipline Teachers
The Arizona State Board of Education's disciplinary process is managed by its Professional Practices Advisory Committee (PPAC), which is the committee responsible for conducting hearings involving certified teachers and educators who have had misconduct complaints filed against them. The PPAC makes recommendations to the Arizona State Board of Education as to how the Board should discipline teachers and educators found to have committed misconduct. In those cases, the PPAC can recommend any of the following:
- Letter of Censure. A letter of censure is a public admonishment against the teacher or educator and becomes part of their public record. Schools are not prohibited from hiring or continuing to employ any teacher or educator who has had a letter of censure issued against them.
- Suspension of the Certificate. A suspension is a temporary penalty that prevents the teacher or educator from working in a position that requires a certificate. Suspension periods can vary widely depending on the misconduct, generally from six months to five years. Once the suspension is lifted, the certificates are restored, and the teacher or educator may return to working in a position that requires certification.
- Suspension of the Certificate “with conditions.” This is a separate form of suspension that may require the teacher or educator to complete additional courses or to enroll in substance abuse programs and will not restore the certificate until certain specified conditions have been met.
- Revocation of the Certificate. This is the most serious disciplinary penalty. The teacher or educator loses their certificate permanently. While in some circumstances, they may be able to request that the certification be restored, the ability to successfully do so is always going to be uncertain.
What Standards Does the Arizona Department of Education Expect Teachers to Uphold?
Teachers in Arizona are expected to understand and uphold a wide range of standards, which are described in detail by the Arizona State Board of Education. These include:
- Understanding how individual students learn and develop, and implementing learning experiences that address those differences.
- Creating inclusive learning environments that account for individual and cultural differences among students.
- Promoting collaborative learning and encouraging “social interaction, active engagement in learning, and self motivation.”
- Having an understanding of the content that the teacher is responsible for teaching, including the “central concepts, tools of inquiry, and structures” of the subject.
- Having the ability to connect concepts in a way that promotes “critical thinking, creativity, and collaborative problem solving.”
- The ability to use “multiple methods of assessment” when evaluating student progress so that students remain engaged and the teacher can understand the student's progress and make decisions based on that information.
- Planning the instruction of their students in a way that “supports every student in meeting rigorous learning goals.”
While these standards don't specifically identify what types of teacher actions are prohibited, they do set a framework for evaluating whether a teacher in a given situation is engaging in conduct that is consistent with appropriate teacher behavior or not.
Grounds for Teacher Discipline in Arizona
There are a number of reasons why a teacher may be investigated for misconduct by the Arizona Board of Education. Generally, they relate to “immoral or unprofessional conduct” and can include:
- Substance abuse. Teaching or being at work while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or prescription or non-prescription drugs can result in disciplinary allegations, even in cases where the report was based on a situation where the teacher had an unexpected adverse reaction to prescription medication.
- Fraud. Fraud allegations cover situations where the teacher is accused of misappropriating school funds or property, using school facilities or equipment for personal gain without permission, or claiming to have provided services or appeared for work when they did not do so.
- Assault. A teacher who physically engages with a student in an aggressive way may be disciplined for assault.
- Sexual allegations. This covers not only sexual contact between a teacher and a student but also inappropriate sexually oriented communications such as emails, text messages, and the like.
- Breach of contract. School districts depend on having teachers for the entire school year, and if a teacher breaks their contract and leaves the school, they may be subject to PPAC discipline.
- Criminal offenses. A teacher who is convicted of a criminal offense may have their teaching credential suspended or revoked. A single DUI may not result in any discipline other than a private warning, but subsequent DUIs within a 5-year period of time may result in suspension of the certificate with conditions.
Don't Assume the Truth Will Protect You from Sanctions in Arizona
One very natural reaction to learning that a disciplinary complaint has been filed against you is to assume that “it's all just a big misunderstanding” and “once I explain what really happened it will all go away.” Unfortunately, that's not how the investigation and disciplinary process works in Arizona. The danger of trying to tell “the truth” to the PPAC investigator is that the PPAC may not always agree that your explanation completely exonerates you. Their job is to investigate misconduct claims and to move forward with discipline in cases where the evidence supports doing so. Your explanation may be considered by the PPAC investigator, but it will be only part of the information collected that the PPAC will rely upon when deciding how to proceed against you.
This is why it can be enormously helpful to be working with an experienced professional license defense attorney. The attorneys that are part of the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team understand how teacher and educator disciplinary investigations work in Arizona, and we are able to help our clients make sure that their rights are respected throughout all of it. Where there is information that may exonerate our clients, we can make sure it is delivered to the investigator in a way that maximizes its favorable impact on the process. In addition, we can help protect your rights if you are interviewed and can even conduct our own investigation on your behalf to uncover additional information that may help your case.
The Process for Disciplining Teachers in Arizona
Misconduct allegations are submitted to the Arizona Board of Education's Investigative Unit and, where the investigation supports further action, are then handled by the PPAC. The various steps of the process are generally as follows:
- Initial review of complaint. The Investigative Unit will review the complaint to make sure that the complaint describes misconduct over which the Board has jurisdiction. A simple personality dispute between a parent and a teacher, for example, is usually not enough to investigate further. That said, most complaints against teachers or educators come from school officials or law enforcement, with only a small number coming from parents.
- Investigation of the complaint. Where it appears the complaint describes the type of misconduct that the PPAC and the Board regulate, the Board's Investigative Unit will look into the matter in more detail. This may include further contact with the person who filed the complaint, an interview with the teacher or educator identified in the complaint, interviews with co-workers or others who may have information about the matter, and collection and review of school records, including emails and other communications.
- The formal complaint. If the information collected by the Investigative Unit supports the misconduct allegations, the matter will be turned over to the PPAC, and a formal complaint describing the charges and the support for them will be filed and sent to the teacher or educator. You'll have 15 days to file a response to the complaint.
- Opportunity to Settle. In many cases, the PPAC will offer to settle the disciplinary matter without a hearing. The benefit of this is that, as a matter of practice, the PPAC may, in some cases, offer a less-serious penalty than if the matter has to go to a hearing. Whether or not to accept a settlement offer is something you should discuss with an attorney who has experience representing teachers and educators in these kinds of situations. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you evaluate any settlement offer you might receive and, based on your particular situation, help you decide whether to accept it or move forward to a hearing.
- Hearing. If you refuse a settlement offer, or none is made, your case will proceed to a hearing before the PPAC. You may be represented by an attorney at this hearing. You may also submit your own exhibits, have witnesses testify for you, testify on your own behalf, and prepare your own set of findings of fact and conclusions of law for the PPAC to consider as it evaluates your case. You'll have the chance to cross-examine witnesses that the state brings to testify against you, and the state will be able to cross-examine you if you testify and any witnesses who you have testify on your own behalf.
- Recommendation. The PPAC will make its recommendation to the Arizona Board of Education after the hearing has finished. It is the Board that makes the final decision about any disciplinary action to take against you.
- Appeal. In some cases, your attorney may advise you that there are grounds for you to file an appeal of the Board's decision. If you decide to do so, the appeal must be filed within 30 days after the date of the decision and is filed with the Superior Court in the county where you work.
What Happens if You Are Disciplined by the Arizona State Board of Education?
The consequences of being disciplined by the Board will vary depending on what the discipline is. If the Board issues a Letter of Censure against you, you will be able to continue to work at your present position and won't be prohibited from working in any other position consistent with your certification or certifications.
In the case of a suspension or revocation of your certification, however, you won't be able to work in a position that requires certification until the suspension is over or your certification is restored. If your suspension is conditional, for example, if it requires you to complete a substance abuse program, you will need to meet those conditions before your certification may be restored, even if the suspension period has passed.
Letters of Censure, Suspensions, and Revocations will appear on the public Discipline Search database maintained by the Arizona State Board of Education.
How the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team Can Help
If you've received a disciplinary complaint from the Board, you need the help of an experienced certificate defense attorney who understands the rules, regulations, and procedures that apply to teacher and educator disciplinary matters in Arizona. At the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team, our attorneys have that experience and can help you navigate the difficult and stressful process while protecting your rights and defending you from the allegations.
We have helped licensed professionals all over the US, including in Arizona, protect their good names and their licenses and certifications in misconduct situations. Whether you are in the Phoenix area or work in Tucson, Lake Havasu City, Prescott, Flagstaff, or anywhere else in the state, our attorneys are ready to help you through this stressful time and to protect and defend your rights.
Because deadlines can be short in disciplinary cases, it's important to contact the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team as soon as you become aware that you're the subject of a misconduct investigation or have received a misconduct complaint. Call us today at 888.535.3686, or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation with one of our team members. We know this is a difficult time for you, and we are here to listen and to help!