As a licensed teacher or educator working in Arkansas, you've spent years of your life and probably tens of thousands of dollars (or more!) learning and training to reach your current position. Attending college and perhaps graduate school, working as a student-teacher, studying and passing the relevant examinations, and applying for and securing the license or licenses you currently hold – all of this time, effort, and money spent is on the line when you learn that you're the target of a misconduct complaint.
Teaching licenses in Arkansas are issued by the Arkansas Department of Education, which lists more than 100 different types of licenses including licenses for teachers in grades K-12, technical and vocational instructors, and school administrators and counselors. As you likely know if you currently hold a teaching license in Arkansas, there are a number of steps you needed to take before you could secure your license, including submitting to one or more background checks.
When the Department of Education notifies you that a misconduct complaint has been filed against you, you need to understand why they are doing so, what you need to do next and when, and what this could mean to your license and your career. A misconduct investigation is a serious matter and can lead to a disciplinary proceeding that could result in you losing your job and your ability to work as a licensed educator in Arkansas. This is why you need the help of one of the experienced professional license defense attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team if you're involved in a misconduct investigation. Our lawyers understand the educator disciplinary process in Arkansas, and we can help you protect your rights and defend your license in these serious situations.
Ways the Arkansas Department of Education Can Discipline Educators
The Arkansas Department of Education's State Board of Education is responsible for disciplining licensed teachers and educators in the state. The Department of Education's ethics rules allow the SBOE to take any of the following actions against a teacher found to have committed misconduct:
- Private Letter of Caution. This is the least serious form of discipline and does not appear on your public teacher record.
- Written Reprimand. A written reprimand does not result in the suspension or termination of the educator's license. It is a public document, however, and will describe the conduct for which the educator is being admonished. It will also warn the educator that future instances of unethical behavior could lead to more severe penalties. In addition, in many cases the educator will also have to pay a fine.
- Probation. When the SBOE places a teacher on probation, the teacher may have to meet certain conditions or take certain actions in order to be able to continue to teach. Conditions could include enrolling in and successfully completing substance abuse treatment, or taking and passing one or more ethics- or teaching practice-related courses. Probation penalties become part of the teacher's public record.
- Suspension. If a teacher's license is suspended, they are not allowed to teach until the time period for the suspension is over. In addition, the SBOE can require the teacher to complete certain courses or take other required steps as part of the conditions of reinstating the license. Information about the suspension becomes part of the teacher's public record.
- Revocation. This is the most serious penalty that can be imposed on a teacher and permanently takes away the educator's license. Information about the revocation and why it was done will also become public.
- any of these disciplinary actions can seriously damage your career, even if you are able to continue to teach after they are imposed. That's why it's important to work with an experienced license defense attorney who understands how license misconduct investigations and disciplinary proceedings in Arkansas work, and who knows how to help you defend your rights and your good name. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team is here to be at your side throughout this process, to take much of the burden and stress of the disciplinary process off of your shoulders, and to provide you with as fierce and effective defense as possible.
What Standards Does the Arkansas Department of Education Expect Educators to Uphold?
Teachers and educators in Arkansas are held to a specific set of standards, including the following:
- Maintain a professional relationship with students
- Stay competent in their profession, including with respect to “ethical behavior, skills, knowledge” and other aspects related to their position
- Meet their reporting obligations, for example, when other educators are observed violating ethics rules
- Manage public funds and property honestly
- Refuse gifts that would appear to influence their professional decisions or actions
- Keep standardized test materials and results confidential
- Keep information about students confidential as required by law
- Do not use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs on school premises, and do not abuse prescription medication when doing so will impair the educator
Failure to abide by any of these standards can result in a misconduct complaint being filed against the educators, with the resulting disciplinary investigation and proceedings.
Grounds for Teacher Discipline in Arkansas
Typical reasons why educators are disciplined in Arkansas include the following:
- Inappropriate relationships with students. This can range from intimate personal texts or messages, to sexual contact with a student.
- Fraud. This can include misappropriating school funds or property, using school property for personal gain without permission, or falsifying school records for the teacher's personal benefit.
- Teaching while impaired. An educator who is intoxicated or impaired due to substance abuse while on the job can be disciplined for doing so.
- Criminal offenses. Teachers who commit a range of specific types of crimes can be disciplined as a result.
- Falsifying application information. Teachers who have obtained their Arkansas licenses by providing false background information or by lying on the application may have their licenses revoked.
- Mistreatment of a child. Whether this has occurred in school or outside of school, a teacher who is found to have mistreated a child and has been reported to Arkansas' Child Maltreatment Central Registry may be disciplined.
Don't Assume the Truth Will Protect You From Sanctions in Arkansas
If you receive a notice that a misconduct complaint has been filed against you and that an investigation is proceeding, your first reaction may be along the lines of “This must all just be a big mistake,” and that “I'm sure once I explain what really happened, this will all go away.” Unfortunately, what may seem like a perfectly sensible approach is not likely to work and may actually hurt your case.
This is because investigations of misconduct complaints must follow certain rules, and while what you have to say to the investigator may be helpful, it won't stop the investigator from conducting a thorough investigation of the complaint. In addition, it's also possible that your message is not understood in the way you intend it to be by the investigator. This is why it can be so helpful to be working with an experienced professional license defense attorney. Our attorneys at the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team understand the investigation process and can help make sure your explanation (a) is one that can help your case, and (b) is provided to the investigator in a clear and complete way so that it has the greatest likelihood of helping your case.
The Process for Disciplining Teachers in Arkansas
Arkansas follows a multi-step process after a misconduct allegation is filed against a teacher. Complaints are handled by the DOE's Professional Liability Standards Board.
- Initial investigation. The misconduct allegation is reviewed by PLSB staff to make sure that it has properly been filled out and that it relates to the type of teacher or educator behavior that the DOE has the power to discipline. If necessary, the PLSB may reach out to the person who filed the allegation to obtain updated or additional information necessary to validate it.
- Review by PLSB Ethics Subcommittee. Assuming the allegation has been validated by staff, the PLSB Ethics Subcommittee will review it and decide whether to authorize a formal investigation. If the Subcommittee has a “reasonable belief” that the allegation is one that, if proven, would “constitute a violation of the Code of Ethics,” then it will authorize the investigation.
- Authorized ethics complaint. If approved by the PLSB Ethics Subcommittee, the allegation becomes a formal complaint. You will be notified in writing and will receive a copy of the complaint and any evidence provided by the person who filed it.
- Investigation. The PLSB staff will then investigate the complaint in detail. This may involve one or more interviews with you, your co-workers, and the person who filed the complaint. The investigator may also get copies of documents, electronic files, and other evidence related to the allegations.
- Final report. At the close of the investigation, you will receive a written report from the PLSB. This will include copies of documents and evidence collected in the course of the investigation. You will have 14 days to respond to this in writing, but you can also request additional time.
- Submission to Ethics Subcommittee. Once your response is received, the PLSB will submit its report and your response to the Ethics Subcommittee.
- Ethics Subcommittee decision. After reviewing the PLSB report and your response, the Ethics Subcommittee will make an initial decision whether to discipline you or not. It can also decide to issue you a Private Letter of Caution instead of recommending disciplinary action. You'll receive notice of this in writing.
- Hearing. If you decide to contest the Ethics Subcommittee's disciplinary decision, you will be entitled to a hearing before the Ethics Hearing Subcommittee (except in the case of a Private Letter of Concern, where you do not have the right to a hearing). If you don't ask for a hearing, the proposed disciplinary action will become final. If you are proceeding with a hearing, there is a separate hearing process that applies, in which you have the right to file various motions relating to your case, including for an extension of time. At the hearing you will have the right to bring witnesses, cross-examine PLSB witnesses, introduce your own evidence, and contest evidence offered by the PLSB.
- Decision. The Ethics Hearing Subcommittee may agree with you and dismiss the proceeding; agree with the PLSB and accept its recommendation; modify the PLSB's recommendation; or elect to issue you a Private Letter of Caution.
- State Board review. If you disagree with the Ethics Hearing Subcommittee's decision, you may request a review of it by the State Board of Education. If the State Board rules against you, you can appeal to the Circuit Court.
As you can see, the investigative and disciplinary process is complicated. It can be enormously helpful to be working with an experienced professional license defense attorney who understands the legal standards and procedural rules and who can help make sure you properly and fully defend yourself throughout the process. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team is ready to help you in these serious and stressful disciplinary situations.
What Happens if You Are Disciplined by the Arkansas Department of Education?
Aside from a Private Letter of Discipline, the disciplinary action taken against you becomes public. Final orders against teachers and educators are listed on the Department of Education's website. In addition, where your license is suspended or revoked, it's reported to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) Clearinghouse so that if you apply for a teaching license in another state, that state can learn about your disciplinary status if it is a member of NASDTEC.
How the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team Can Help
The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team has been helping teachers and educators in Arkansas and other states protect their professional licenses and certifications for years. We understand how important this is to you and how stressful it can be to have to go through to be accused of misconduct, particularly where the accusation could result in your license being suspended or revoked. We can help take much of that stress and burden off of your shoulders while forcefully and effectively defending your rights throughout the process.
Whether you work in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Little Rock, Jonesboro, or any other city or town in Arkansas, the Lento Law Firm can help. If you've been notified that a misconduct complaint has been filed against you, don't delay – call us today at 888.535.3686 or use our online contact form to schedule a confidential consultation. Your reputation and your teaching license may be at stake, and we are here to listen and to help!